Jury picked in U.S. drug trial of nephews of Venezuelan first lady

November 3, 2016 1:13 PM EDT

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (2nd from L) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas stand with law enforcement officers in this November 12, 2015 photo after their arrest in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Courtesy of U.S. Attorney's Office Manhattan/Handout via R


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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An architect, a truck driver and a school administrator were among the 12 jurors selected on Thursday for the U.S. trial of two nephews of Venezuela's first lady accused of trying to carry out a multimillion-dollar drug deal.

Seven women and five men were picked in Manhattan federal court in the trial of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Flores de Freitas, 31, and Campo Flores, 30, were arrested in Haiti in November 2015 following a sting operation overseen by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and brought to the United States.

Prosecutors have accused the two men of trying to exploit their political connections and use one of Venezuela's airports to send hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to Honduras for trans-shipment to the United States. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

The case comes amid several U.S. probes linking drug trafficking to individuals tied to the government in Venezuela. The U.S. State Department says the country is a preferred route for moving drugs from South America to other areas.

The 12-member jury and four alternates, all from the New York area, were selected over two days. The trial is scheduled to begin with opening statements on Monday, and last about 10 days.

After six rounds of challenges by prosecutors and defense lawyers, several potential jurors who professed knowledge of Venezuela were excluded, including a woman who said the country seems to be facing "hard economic times now."

When the vast majority of the 12 jurors were asked what they knew about the country, they gave such answers as the one from a school administrator, who said, "I have no knowledge about Venezuela other than where it is located on a map."

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)



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