Updated 04:45 PM EDT, Sun, Apr 18, 2021

Venezuela News: Relatives of President Nicolás Maduro Arrested Over Drug Trafficking Charges

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Two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have been arrested over drug trafficking charges.

Franqui Francisco Flores-de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo-Flores were arrested and were flown into New York on Tuesday to face charges. Both individuals are nephews of Maduro's wife and Venezuelan First Lady Cilia Flores, Reuters reported from a source close to the Flores family.

According to Fox News Latino, the two men were arrested in Haiti on Tuesday night as part of a sting operation organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Maduro denied the charges against the two, insisting that the issue is just a smear campaign against the Socialist Party he belongs in, Reuters further reported.

The two are scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Tuesday, Fox News Latino added. During the arrest, Campos-Flores claimed that he's the son of the First Lady and the stepson of Maduro, a former DEA official named Michael Vigil told the Associated Press. Campos-Flores also said that he was raised by the couple in the Maduro household.

Vigil said that he was briefed by U.S. authorities about the undercover operation involving the duo, the news outlet noted. The men were supposedly in the middle of smuggling cocaine approximately about 1,700 lbs. into the U.S. when they were apprehended in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where their plane landed. Reuters wrote that the two are planning to sell the cocaine through Honduras.

As translated by Fox News Latino, Spanish news outlet ABC reported that the men told police that they had diplomatic immunity, but authorities found no basis for the two's claim. They also told the DEA that their operation involve Diosdado Cabello, speaker of the National Assembly, and Governor Tarck el Aissami, who is the former Venezuelan Minister of the Interior. The two claimed that these high-ranking officials helped the passage of the drugs.

Cabello, known as Venezuela's second most influential figure, has been at the center of the attention of U.S. drug-trafficking investigation, which also includes top members of the country's government, Fox News Latino further reported.

Critics of Maduro and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's administrations said that the recent arrests are another example of the government's corruption.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Venezuelan government to hide its true colors," said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, to Fox News Latino. "Venezuela's government is a criminal enterprise composed of a drug cartel, a money laundering financial system, and a kleptocracy."

Flores, 62, is a highly influential figure under her husband's office. She worked on the legal team of the late president Chavez, and is frequently witnessed at Maduro's side in public events, Reuters noted.

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