CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores on Tuesday said two of her nephews who have been indicted on drug trafficking charges were kidnapped by U.S. authorities, her first comments on the case since their arrests sparked a scandal last year.
Franqui Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Campo Flores, 29, were arrested in Haiti in November in an operation involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The two were later indicted in New York on charges of conspiring to traffic cocaine, an embarrassment to President Nicolas Maduro.
“We have evidence that the DEA was here on Venezuelan territory violating our sovereignty and committing crimes on our territory,” said Flores, who is also a congresswoman, when asked about the issue by reporters at the legislature.
“The DEA committed the crime of kidnapping, which the (legal) defense will prove.”
The United States embassy in Caracas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The two met with a DEA informant in Honduras in October and asked for help in sending 800 kilos of cocaine to the United States, according to a source knowledgeable of the situation.
Opposition critics have described the two as “narconephews,” and say the case signals a broader involvement of Venezuelan authorities in smuggling drugs from neighboring Colombia toward the United States and Europe.
Socialist Party officials call the accusations an attempt by Washington to smear the leftist government, and insist drug interdiction efforts have improved since the 2005 expulsion of the DEA.
“They have tried to link high-ranking government officials to make it look like Venezuela is complacent with the drug trade, and it turns out that major drug traffickers are arrested here,” Flores said.
Reporting by Diego Oré; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Sandra Maler