Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, were arrested Tuesday night in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince as they were preparing to finalize a deal that would have allowed them to transport 800 kilograms of drugs to the United States, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration source who participated in the arrest.
One of the men was raised by Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores; the other is her nephew.
An indictment unsealed Thursday accuses the men of conspiring to import, manufacture and distribute 5 or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States. In October, the indictment says, Campo and Flores de Freitas "participated in meetings in Venezuela, regarding a shipment of cocaine that was to be sent to the United States, via Honduras."
The men did not enter pleas when they appeared in federal court in Manhattan in a brief hearing Thursday evening. A judge ordered them held without bail. If they are convicted, the charge carries the maximum penalty of life in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York said.
Diplomatic immunity claimed
Information about the arrest was corroborated by Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration who has contacts that are high-level federal law enforcement officials.
During the arrest, both men had Venezuelan diplomatic passports and openly identified themselves as the son and nephew of Flores, maintaining that they had diplomatic immunity, Vigil said.
CNN contacted Haitian authorities to ask about the arrest, but officials there said they were not involved in the raid.
President decries 'imperial ambushes'
The Venezuelan government
has not responded to requests for comment.
Maduro and Flores married in July 2013, several months after he was sworn in as Venezuela's President on the heels of the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez.
But they'd been a couple for years, and both of them were members of Chavez' inner circle. During Chavez' final years in office, Maduro was vice president and foreign minister; Flores was the attorney general.
Now, rather than going by the title of first lady, Flores uses the term "first fighter" to describe her role.
Photos posted on Venezuelan government Twitter accounts Thursday showed Maduro and Flores smiling as they arrived in Geneva, where the Venezuelan leader spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In his speech, Maduro criticized what he said were decades of U.S. efforts to undercut his country's government with bogus allegations of human rights violations.
In a tweet posted shortly after reports of the arrests, he decried "imperial ambushes" against Venezuela, but he did not mention his family members.
"The Fatherland will continue on its path," Maduro wrote, "neither attacks, nor imperial ambushes, will be a match against the People of the Liberators, we have only one destiny ... to win."