Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelan first lady's nephews on drugs charges in US

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (right) gestures next to First Lady Cilia Flores during a rally in Caracas on 8 August, 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The indictment comes just three weeks before key legislative elections in Venezuela

A court in New York has charged two nephews of Venezuela's First Lady Cilia Flores with conspiring to import cocaine to the United States.

The two, Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, were arrested on Tuesday in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

They are accused of trying to arrange a shipment of cocaine to the US via Honduras.

The charges are likely to further strain US-Venezuelan relations.

'Imperialist ambush'

Without referring directly to the arrest of his wife's nephews, President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter on Thursday that "the fatherland will continue on its path, neither attacks nor imperialist ambushes can derail the people of the Liberators, we have only one destiny and that's to win".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cilia Flores often accompanies her husband at official events abroad

The court papers offered little detail beyond stating that Mr Flores de Freitas, 30, and Mr Campo Flores, 29, had been charged with one count of conspiracy to import cocaine.

They are suspected of taking part in a meeting in Venezuela discussing how to smuggle cocaine into Honduras and from there on to the US.

US counternarcotics experts have long said that large amounts of cocaine transit from Colombia through Venezuela on to Europe and the US.

The US Treasury currently lists nine Venezuelan officials as "kingpins", people it suspects of involvement in large-scale drug trafficking.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, was being investigated by US authorities for suspected drug trafficking.

Mr Cabello dismissed the accusations, saying absolutely no proof had been offered to link him to any shady dealings.

He also filed a number of defamation suits against newspapers who had repeated the allegations.

First lady

First lady Cilia Flores is a powerful political figure in Venezuela.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Cilia Flores is a politician in her own right

She first met Mr Maduro when she was acting as defence lawyer for his predecessor in office, Hugo Chavez.

Mr Maduro and Ms Flores only married in 2013 after being in a relationship since the 1990s.

She has served as a member of the National Assembly and is running again as a candidate in the upcoming legislative election.

She has not yet commented on the allegations made against her nephews, one of whom she is reported to have raised after his mother died.

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