Two nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro were found guilty of conspiring to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S ., in a politically fraught instance that links the countrys ruling family to the corruption plaguing its economy.
Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 30, and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 31, could face 10 years to life in prison after a jury delivered a guilty verdict in Manhattan court Friday. The men are nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduros wife, and Venezuela argues they were kidnapped, showing that the Drug Enforcement Administration has operated illegally in Venezuela, in contravention of a 2005 decree.
In a trial that spanned almost two weeks, their lawyers painted them as nave young men who fell prey to DEA informants under the seduce of big money. They struggled to get ahead in Caracas society and didnt have lavish lifestyles, though, like all members of Maduros extended family, they had their own bodyguards, they said.
U.S. attorneys told another story of impudent elite who tried to use their political connections to get massive amounts of cocaine out of the country through the presidential airplane hanger — and planned to use the trafficking operation to support a disintegrating regime.
They promised a lot of money to guys who lives in a country so damaged…whatever $20 million, $30 million means in the U.S ., it entails endlessly more in Venezuela, said Randall Jackson, a lawyer for the nephews, referring to the sums DEA agents offered his clients.
The prosecution of the nephews, apprehended a year ago in Haiti, is one of several intersecting U.S. probes into Venezuela and Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, its state-owned oil company. U.S. officials are said to be seeking charges against several Venezuelan elite for bribery related to PDVSA, seeking to seize assets that could eventually be returned to Venezuela after a democratic election.
Leftist and unpopular Maduro has no plans to leave office, as our own countries suffers dearths, soaring inflation and a crushing recession. Transparency International ranks Venezuela 158 th out of 168 in corruption.
The nephews boasted they controlled the Caracas airport and sent pilots on multiple test flights to Honduras to try and secure a route, U.S. lawyer Emil Bove said.
They wanted to do as many loads as possible leading up to the Dec. 11 elections, Bove told the jury in closing debates, referring to Venezuelas 2015 parliamentary elections in which Flores was operating for was running for a seat.
He was contended that because a real drug dealer is working in Honduras was the first to construct contact with the nephews and bring him in touch with U.S. informants, it couldnt be considered entrapment.
He was the bridge, Bove told, demonstrating a picture of him standing in a dark Honduran nightscape in between the two nephews and the U.S.s wheelchair-bound informant.
The government botched a sting operation because it failed to provide any actual cocaine as evidence, Jackson, the lawyer for the nephews, told the jury. Informants failed to record key interactions and had dealt medications on the side themselves, destroying their credibility, he said.
The U.S. presented a photo of one of the nephews holding a kilo of cocaine in his hands and presented snippets of chats in which they boast they can get cocaine by the shovel-full.
U.S. law enforcement officials have had mixed success in past attempts to link Venezuelan officials to cocaine trafficking. In August, they unsealed a instance against Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, the former director of the countrys own anti-drug office. Maduro promptly thereafter named Reverol justice minister, saying the U.S. lawsuit was baseless.
In December, the U.S. charged Roberto Rincon, a Venezuelan resident of Houston, with taking part in a bribery strategy involving PDVSA, adding in court documents that he is connected to Hugo Carvajal, wanted in the U.S. for drug trafficking. Rincon pleaded guilty to two countings, including conspiracy to violate corruption laws.
Federal attorneys are also said to be preparing to charge several other individuals and confiscate their property over the alleged looting of PDVSA.
The nephews defense team with Boies, Schiller& Flexner LLP was funded by Wilmer Ruperti, a Venezuelan shipping tycoon who made his fortune under former president Hugo Chavez and contracts ships to PDVSA.
The case is USA v. Campo Flores, 15 -cr-0 0765, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York( Manhattan ).
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