Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelan first lady's nephews arrested in US drug case

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores (18 October 2014) Image copyright AP
Image caption Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores

Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady have been arrested in Haiti and taken to the US to face drug trafficking charges, US media reports say.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores are accused of conspiring to smuggle 800kg of cocaine into the United States..

The two men are due to appear before a federal judge in New York on Thursday.

Venezuela has not commented on the reported arrests which follow on from an airspace violation row on Sunday.

Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said that a US plane had wrongfully entered the South American country's airspace.

Image copyright Reuters

Although Venezuela has repeatedly accused the US of meddling in its affairs, ties between the two countries have improved since reaching a low point in March, when the US imposed sanctions on a number of Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses.

The US has repeatedly maintained that drug trafficking is taking place at the highest echelons of President Nicolas Maduro's administration.

Highly influential

The extradition of the two men comes just three weeks ahead of key Venezuelan legislative elections.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The US maintains that drug trafficking is taking place at the highest echelons of President Nicolas Maduro's government

The two suspects are reported by US officials to have been arrested in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince after arriving from Venezuela aboard a private plane. Reports say that while both have diplomatic passports neither has diplomatic immunity.

The pair were arrested after contacting an undercover American agent about selling the cocaine through Honduras, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing two sources whom it says are familiar with the matter.

First lady Cilia Flores, 62, is referred to by President Maduro as the "First Combatant" and is highly influential in the government led by her husband, correspondents say.

She worked on the legal team of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, helping to win his release from prison in 1994 after a failed coup attempt.

Mr Campos Flores is reported to be the son of a deceased sister of Ms Flores and was partly brought up by the first lady and Mr Maduro.

The president is due to speak at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday in defence of his country's human rights record and allegations that he has stifled dissent.

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