Two nephews of Venezuela’s powerful first lady Cilia Flores, confessed to trying to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the US, according to prosecutors in the politically-charged case. The court filings by prosecutors shed new light on the case that has sounded alarm bells about high-level corruption and drug trafficking by Venezuela’s political elite at a time of increasing economic and political turmoil in the country.
Efraín Campo and Francisco Flores were arrested last November in Haiti in a sting operation coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. They were then flown to New York, where they are in jail awaiting trial for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The documents filed on Friday seek to refute arguments in a motion by the defendants’ attorneys to suppress their post-arrest statements to DEA agents on their way to New York because they allegedly hadn’t been informed of their rights and were coerced after being taken into custody by armed men in ski masks in what they at first thought was a kidnapping.
Prosecutors allege Campo and Flores hatched the drug deal in about two months. They said it was first brought to the attention of the DEA by a wheelchair-bound cooperating witness nicknamed “El Sentado” (the seated one), who met Campo and Flores in Honduras and who wound up being killed three weeks after their arrest.
As part of the DEA investigation, confidential sources were sent to Caracas to meet with the two young men. The court documents include photographs allegedly taken from a secret video of those meetings that prosecutors say show Campo examining a brick of cocaine with plastic gloves as Flores looks on. Campo allegedly said the narcotics came from an individual who was in turn supplied by the Colombian paramilitary group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
During the meetings, Campo allegedly brags about owning several Ferraris and being at “war” with the US and Venezuela’s opposition. He also describes high-level connections with the government that will make it easy to move drugs through Caracas’ international airport and prevent any cocaine-laden plane from being followed by law enforcement because, he said, “it departs as if .... someone from our family was on the plane,” according to a statement by US attorneys for the southern district of New York.
In the court filings, Campo first suggested to agents that the cocaine deal was to fund Cilia Flores’ congressional campaign.
“I know I said that but in reality it was for me,” a court document quotes Campo as telling a DEA agent. “Campo stated that friends in the drug business had told him to be careful not to get robbed so he made the statement regarding his Mom’s campaign for protection,” the DEA agent wrote in his post-arrest report.
In reality, Campo said he was struggling financially, earning just US$800 a week from a fleet of taxis he owned in Panama, according to the documents. He also described being rebuffed by his cousin, Erick Malpica-Flores, then finance director of state-run oil giant PDVSA, in a plan to charge commissions to businesses trying to collect on debts owed them by the company.
Campo, 29, said he and his cousin wanted to make US$20 million from multiple drug shipments, enough to go live in the US with his wife and child. He said his family would “kill him” if they knew what he was up to, according to the documents.