Jury Deliberations Begin in Venezuelan “Narco Nephews” Case

A US jury began deliberations Friday in the trial of two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

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Venezuelan nationals Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores are accused of plotting to smuggle cocaine to the US. (US Attorney's Office Manhattan/Handout via Reuters)
Venezuelan nationals Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores are accused of plotting to smuggle cocaine to the US. (US Attorney's Office Manhattan/Handout via Reuters)
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Puebla, Mexico, November 18, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A US jury began deliberations Friday in the trial of two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

In Manhattan, US District Judge Paul Crotty delivered instructions to jurors before noon, according to Reuters. During closing arguments Wednesday, the prosecution was in damage control over allegations their key witness had lied in court.

Much of the prosecution’s case had rested on the testimony of informant Jose Santos-Pena, who was part of a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sting operation that led to the arrests of Venezuelan nationals Flores de Freitas and Campo Flores. The pair are nephews of Maduro’s wife Celia Flores, and are accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the US via Honduras.

The case took an unexpected lurch when the defence presented evidence they said showed Santos-Pena had lied in court, and had been smuggling drugs even while being paid by the DEA.

The allegations led to the prosecution ripping up a deal with Santos-Pena that would have seen him avoid a lengthy prison sentence in exchange for his testimony.

"He lied in your face!" defence attorney David Rody told jurors, according to the Associated Press.

"Why did you have the spectacle of this man lying to you in court?" he continued.

"It's because they needed him. Their case depends on him. He is the centre of this case. The case revolves around him,” Rody concluded.

In closing remarks, the prosecution urged jurors to focus on other evidence in the case, such as statements made by the defendants to US federal agents after their arrest in Haiti.

“They thought they could easily make tons of money sending drugs out of the country because, as defendant Flores said, the DEA is not here and the Americans don't come in here,” Assistant US Attorney Brendan Quigley said.

“But they were wrong. You have their confessions. You have the recordings, the five different meetings,” he added.

During the case, he alleged the pair considered themselves above the law, and were at least partially motivated for political reasons. Quigley accused them of planning to use the drug money to aid Maduro’s socialist party in the December 2015 National Assembly elections. Venezuela’s socialists ended up losing the elections by a landslide.

While the prosecution sought to portray the defendants as knowing participants in a multimillion dollar drug smuggling scheme, the defence has argued Flores and Freitas were entrapped by informants eager to provide the DEA with high profile marks in exchange for money.

Rody claimed the informants “make a good living ratting out other people,” while arguing the collapse of Santos-Pena’s testimony left the prosecution empty handed.

“He infects every aspect of this case,” he said.