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Venezuelan Political Scions at the Center of Huge New York Cocaine Trial

With Venezuela deep in political crisis, two members of the country’s first family went on trial this week in the U.S. district court in Manhattan for charges of cocaine trafficking. The two men, Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, are nephews of Cilia Flores—wife of embattled President Nicolás Maduro.

During opening statements, assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove said the pair were secretly recorded planning to ship 800 kilos of coke from Venezuela to Honduras for re-export to the United States.

“They believed that they were so powerful in their country,” Bove said, gesturing toward the duo, “that they believed they could ship one metric ton of cocaine” to the United States. According to Courthouse News Service‘s reporter on the scene, Bove titillated the jury with the promise of incriminating video footage.

“You’ll see Campo on video holding a kilo of cocaine,” he said. He added that audio evidence will reveal Flores boasting of his control over a Venezuelan airport, where a presidential hangar could be used to store the stash.

But it may not be so cut and dry.

DEA agents did not find any cocaine when the nephews were popped in Haiti almost exactly a year ago. The government’s case will in large measure lie on the credibility of agency informants. Defense attorneys for both men took turns in the courtroom on Monday at undermining this credibility. One of the witnesses, a top Honduran trafficker known as “El Sentado,” was reportedly murdered in his country last December, just a month after Campo and Flores were busted. Two others have pleaded guilty to using drugs, soliciting prostitutes and perjuring themselves while working for the DEA as informants. 

Attorney Michael Mann, representing Flores for the firm Sidley Austin, portrayed ulterior motives in the government’s case.

“You’ll see that the political connections are at the very heart of this prosecution,” he told the jury. He said the same recordings that the government intends to use against Campo and Flores reveal DEA agents belittling the pair as easy marks. “They were utter novices, ripe for exploitation,” Mann said.

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