'The Americans are hitting us hard with money': US prosecutors say 'narco nephews' motivated by politics, cash

US prosecutors say conversations between one of the Venezuelan first lady’s nephews and an informant reveal the political motivations behind what has become known as the “narco nephews” case that has further inflamed tensions between the US and Venezuela.

Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, were arrested in November 2015 in Haiti and transferred to the US, where they are slated to face trial on charges of drug trafficking starting November 7.

A transcript of a conversation between Efrain Campo, 29, and a Drug Enforcement Administration informant that was seen by McClatchy details Campo saying “we’re at war” with the Americans, referring to the deeply contentious relationship between Washington and Caracas.

Campo also reportedly wanted the alleged deal to smuggle nearly 1,800 pounds of cocaine into the US to be concluded quickly because Cilia Flores, his aunt whom he referred to as his mother in the conversation, needed the cash for her campaign.

“We need the money,” Campo said, according to the transcript. “Why? Because the Americas are hitting us hard with money. Do you understand? The opposition … is getting an infusion of a lot of money.”

At the time of the conversation in October 2015, Maduro’s socialist government was in the midst of an unsuccessful campaign to maintain its majority in the country’s National Assembly.

Flores, a former president of the Assembly, was running for a spot as a legislator at the time, winning a seat representing the state of Cojedes in December 2015.

The conversation transcript is the first piece of evidence from the case released that shows a direct connection between Campo and Francisco Flores, 30, and Venezuelan president and his wife. US prosecutors say the conversations reveal that the defendants thought they would be supplying cash to counteract money they believed the US was supplying the opposition ahead of those legislative elections.

Based on information previously released by prosecutors, Francisco Flores expected to receive $560,000 of the $5 million the deal was worth.

Campo addressed the socialist party’s efforts defeat the political opposition’s challenge to its power, saying “We put them in jail over here … We send them to jail for 15 years,” according to McClatchy.

It’s not clear who Campo was referring to at the time, though months prior those legislative elections a Venezuelan court sentenced Leopoldo López, a prominent opposition leader, to 14 years in prison in relation to violence during antigovernment demonstrations in early 2014 that led to the deaths of more than 40 people.

Defence lawyers called on US District Judge Paul Crotty to deny the admission of conversations that involved Venezuelan’s elections.

They called the statement “idle political chatter” and argued the “highly politicized statements” had no evidentiary value, coming when a DEA informant mentioned Cilia Flores and the elections.

After his arrest in November last year, Campo tried to downplay his earlier statements about putting money toward Cilia Flores’ campaign, telling DEA agents that, “I know I said that, but in reality it was for me.”

Those comments were part of an alleged confession, the inclusion of which Campo unsuccessfully fought.

“If those declarations are not thrown out, I’m of the opinion, 100%, that they will be convicted,” Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the DEA, told Business Insider days prior to the judge’s October 12 decision to include the alleged confessions.

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