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US Arrests Maduro Relatives in Venezuela Cocaine Case

A court officer stands outside U.S. Federal Court, where two nephews of Venezuela's powerful first lady are facing arraignment after being arrested in Haiti, Nov. 12, 2015, in New York.

U.S. agents have arrested two nephews of Venezuela's first lady, accusing them of trying to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.

Cilia Flores' nephews were apprehended Tuesday in Haiti by local police and then handed over to U.S. agents who accompanied them on a flight to New York. They are set to appear Thursday before a federal judge.

U.S. authorities said the two men, Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Feitas, were arrested at a hotel in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince after arriving on a private plane on a flight from Venezuela. Both men were carrying diplomatic passports, even though U.S. authorities said they are not diplomats.

Investigators familiar with the case said Campo is the son of the first lady's late sister and was partly raised by Cilia Flores and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan leader and Flores have long been a couple, both drawn to Venezuelan's late leftist leader Hugo Chavez, and married in 2013 shortly after Maduro was elected president following Chavez's death.

Flores is highly influential in her husband's government and he refers to her as the "First Combatant," rather than first lady.

'Imperialist ambushes'

The drug arrests are likely to exacerbate already contentious U.S.-Venezuelan relations. The United States views Venezuela as a key transit hub for Colombian drugs bound for U.S. shores.

Arrests of the two relatives could also pose political problems for Maduro, with Venezuela facing widespread economic problems. The ruling Socialist Party faces the possibility of losing its 16-year control of the National Assembly in December legislative elections.

Maduro has long contended U.S. accusations that Venezuela is complicit in drug trafficking are part of an international campaign to discredit his socialist government.

With the arrests of his wife's nephews, the 52-year-old Maduro tweeted, "The fatherland will follow its course. Neither attacks nor imperialist ambushes can harm the people of the liberators."