Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady were ordered held without bail in New York on Thursday after being arrested in Haiti on charges of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S.
The arrest and indictment of Efrain Campos and Francisco Flores is likely to exacerbate already tense relations between the U.S. and Venezuela and add fuel to U.S. accusations of drug trafficking at the highest levels of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration.
The case comes just three weeks before key legislative elections that opinion polls have been suggesting could hand Venezuela's ruling party its worst defeat in 16 years as the country struggles with triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages of basic goods.
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Campos, 29, and Flores, 30, were arrested Tuesday, flown to the United States and appeared late Thursday afternoon in a federal court in New York. A U.S. magistrate judge ordered them held without bail.
No pleas were entered. The pair were scheduled to next appear in court Wednesday, and attorneys for each said after the hearing that their clients would plead not guilty. The lawyers declined to comment further.
The indictment unsealed Thursday in New York charges the pair with one count of narcotics conspiracy. It alleges the men participated in meetings in Venezuela regarding a plot to smuggle cocaine into the United States via Honduras, but provided few other details. Conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.