Español The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced two relatives of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro to 18 years in prison this Thursday, December 14 for their involvement in a transnational drug trafficking operation.
Efraín Campos Flores and Franqui Flores de Freitas — also known as the “narco-nephews” of Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores — were planning to smuggle 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States. It was the first time relatives of a sitting president were convicted of drug trafficking in an international court.
Citing photographs, audio, and video evidence uncovered in phone records, prosecutors were able to prove that the nephews were preparing to send the drugs to the United States using their influence as members of the presidential family.
The Venezuelan government claimed that Flores and Freitas were not criminals and were “kidnapped” by the US government for a politically motivated trial. However, the prosecution successfully showed that both defendants were exploiting political connections by using the presidential hangar at the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Caracas to prepare massive loads of cocaine for shipment to the US.
The “narco-nephews” also attempted to take advantage of their connections with their cousin Erick Malpica Flores, Treasurer of the state oil company PDVSA, which has been mired in its own corruption scandals.
The defendants’ attorneys attempted to argue the nephews were “too stupid” and inexperienced to run such a high-level operation. However, prosecutors were able to show that neither defendant was new to drug trafficking, having been involved in similar activity since their adolescence that even included contact with the Colombian guerrilla FARC.
Initially, prosecutors asked that the nephews be given life sentences, due in part to the other serious crimes that were revealed in the process of investigating the drug trafficking operation.
Investigations into phone records revealed a photo of a dismembered corpse that turned out to be Carlos Rafael Galindez, the girlfriend of Jimena Araya, also known as Rosita — a television personality who became famous in Venezuela for her romantic involvement with leaders of criminal organizations.
US investigators were also able to uncover the nephews’ attempt to collect enough money to arrange the release of the head of the Guajira cartel Hermágoras Polanco, who was arrested in the Dominican Republic for trafficking 450 bricks of cocaine.
On December 11, prosecutors made a document public arguing that Maduro had given the drug trafficking operation his “imprimatur” and was thus complicit in the crime.
They also suggested that the First Lady had first-hand knowledge of the operation, pointing to a text message in which Flores said he had to reschedule a meeting for a day when he wasn’t working on her electoral campaign. In another message, Freitas agrees to come up with US$560,000 to help pay for the First Lady’s campaign
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Prosecutors also implicated Diosdado Cabello, one of the most prominent figures in the Venezuelan dictatorship. Audio of the defendants mentioned that he was the most powerful man in Venezuela due to alleged links to the Soles drug cartel and pull with the National Armed Forces.
The Maduro family has not yet commented on news of the sentencing.