WASHINGTON—U.S. agents arrested two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on charges they conspired to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine to the U.S., according to two people familiar with the matter, a potentially explosive incident that comes amid U.S. accusations that the top echelon of Venezuela’s government is involved in the narcotics trade.
The two men, Efraín Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, were first arrested in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday by local police, turned over to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and flown the same day to New York in a DEA jet, these people said. The two were scheduled to go before a federal judge in New York on Thursday, they said. A spokesman for the federal district court declined to comment.
The arrests come as prosecutors in New York, Washington and Miami are pursuing numerous investigations into alleged drug-trafficking and money-laundering activities of top Venezuelan military, police and government officials, according to U.S. officials.
U.S. officials have long said Venezuela is the main transit point for cocaine from next door Colombia. Caracas routinely denies allegations that it is involved in drug trafficking, characterizing them as efforts to destabilize its leftist government.
The two men contacted a DEA confidential informant in Honduras in October and asked for help in trafficking 800 kilograms of cocaine through the airport in the country’s Caribbean island of Roatán, according to one of the two people familiar with the case.
In subsequent meetings in Venezuela, this person said, the two Venezuelans brought a kilogram of cocaine to a confidential informant to show the quality of the promised drug, which was to be sold in New York. Agents filmed and taped the meetings with the Venezuelans, this person added.
The arrests come as Mr. Maduro’s government faces legislative elections in December amid a collapsing economy marked by 200% inflation and the widespread scarcity of essential medicines and food.
Polls of American college students show overwhelming support for socialist Bernie Sanders, presumably because they hope he can do for this country what Chavez and his successors have done to theirs.