Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Peru drug arrests: Michaella could be held for two years before trial

Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid (front) in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid (front) in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
William Reid, father of Melissa Reid, leaves the anti-drug headquarters in Lima where his daughter and Michaella McCollum are being held.

The two young women accused of attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Peru have been transferred to judicial custody in the port city of Callao where they officially find out what charges they face.

Michaella McCollum Connolly (20) and Melissa Reid (20) were transferred in handcuffs from the anti-narcotics police station in Lima and into judicial custody in the port city of Callao.

The pair were waiting to be officially charged with drugs smuggling in relation to a seizure of 11kg of cocaine worth an estimated £1.5m.

Michaella and Melissa both insist that they were forced to carry the drugs in their luggage and were in fear of their lives at the time.

All of the court proceedings will now take place in Callao because the alleged offence occurred at Jorge Chavez International Airport, which is in Callao.

Both of the young women looked tired on leaving the police station where they have faced hours of questioning since their arrest a fortnight ago.

Their families visited the women in the early morning, but left before they were officially transferred from police custody to judicial custody.

They charges will only be the first of a lengthy list of administrative procedures. They could face years in custody before they are tried.

Michaella McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden said that they will both be tried together. He said: "I think the consensus of opinion is that they will each be charged with just over 5kg (of cocaine) - that is what we are hoping."

Both women are expected to plead not guilty.

Michaella's brother Keith McCollum and Mr Madden visited her earlier. Mr Madden said she was holding up well but was very worried about what was going to happen.

The two women are now being held in a detention centre in Callao, and are set to appear before a judge over the coming days. They are then expected to be transferred to the notorious Santa Monica prison, where they could be held for up to two years without bail.

If found guilty, the sentence for smuggling 11kg of cocaine can be as high as 25 years in Peru

The prosecution lawyer, Juan Mendoza Abarca, is one of the main attorneys specialising in drug trafficking cases.

Mr Madden will return to Northern Ireland after the initial stages of court procedures, to prepare Ms McCollum Connolly's defence case in co-ordination with her lawyer in Lima.

"It will be complicated because there are a number of people in Ibiza that will have to be interviewed," he said.

Both Ms McCollum Connolly, from Tyrone, and Ms Reid, from Scotland, have insisted that they were coerced into transporting the drugs from Cusco in the south of Peru to Lima and then into attempting to carry them to Spain.

They said that they were kidnapped in Spain and threatened at gunpoint. They claimed they were also shown photographs of their family and warned their lives would be in danger.

In the last few days photographs have emerged of the women allegedly enjoying the beaches in Peru, just days before they were arrested.

The women were housed in a top-class hotel in the Peruvian capital throughout their stay.

However, Mr Madden denied reports about his client's alleging involvement with drugs. "Michaella McCollum did not owe any money to any drugs dealer, she was not and is not involved in the drugs trade ... she has never been in trouble with the police," he said.

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