BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – Two nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores have been arrested in Haiti on charges of trying to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S., two people familiar with the case said Wednesday.
The incident is likely to heighten tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela and cast a new look at U.S. accusations of drug trafficking by top-level officials in the socialist South American nation.
The two arrested men, identified as Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores, were detained Tuesday night when they arrived on a private plane in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, said Michael Vigil, the former head of international operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration, who was briefed by U.S. authorities about the undercover operation.
Vigil said Campos claimed to law enforcement that he is the son of Flores and stepson of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Both Campos and Flores were traveling on diplomatic passports but don’t have diplomatic immunity, Vigil said.
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It was unclear if the men remained in Haiti. Another person briefed on the case, who agreed to talk about the arrested only if not quoted by name, said the two would be arraigned on drug charges Thursday in New York.
Flores is one of the most-powerful members of Venezuela’s revolutionary government and a constant presence alongside Maduro. The two have been together since the 1990s, when Flores served as lawyer for the then-jailed Hugo Chavez and Maduro was one of many leftist activists drawn to the charismatic junior army officer following his arrest for a failed 1992 coup attempt.
Venezuela’s Communications Ministry and Foreign Ministry declined to comment about the report, saying they had no information about the incident.
Maduro and Flores traveled this week to Saudi Arabia to attend a summit of South American and Middle Eastern leaders. Maduro was expected to address the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday at a special meeting in Geneva called at his request.
Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman reported this story in Bogota and AP writer Alicia A. Caldwell reported from Washington. AP writer Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.