Venezuela first lady’s nephews getting help to cover defense costs: US

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady facing US charges that they conspired to import cocaine into the United States are getting their defence costs paid for by an unnamed third party, prosecutors said.

In a letter filed on Friday in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors asked a US judge to pose questions to Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores about their legal fees at a hearing this Thursday.

Both men are nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, and in the last two months brought on large, prominent US law firms to defend them against charges stemming from their arrests in November.

Prosecutors asked US District Judge Paul Crotty to inquire whether a potential conflict of interest exists due to a third party paying their fees and ask Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas if they waive it.

A conflict could mean it was “conceivable that the third party could persuade counsel to avoid seeking leniency by having their client attempt to cooperate, or to advise their client to refrain from testifying in his own defense,” prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also asked the judge to ask who is paying their lawyers, who believe such a question is unnecessary, the letter said.

John Zach, a lawyer for Campo Flores at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, declined comment. David Rody, a lawyer for Flores de Freitas at Sidley Austin LLP, also declined comment.

The case is the latest in a series of enforcement actions and investigations by US authorities that have linked individuals connected to the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking.

The nephews’ case marked an embarrassment to Maduro when it was unveiled last year. Flores in January called the arrest of her nephews a “kidnapping.”

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