Belfast Telegraph

Peru drug arrests: Michaella McCollum Connolly could plead guilty for a shorter sentence

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

Michaella McCollum Connolly could be preparing to plead guilty to attempting to carry more than a million pounds worth of cocaine out of Peru.

The 20-year-old from Dungannon, and Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, near Glasgow, are accused of attempting to smuggle cocaine worth more than £1.5m out of the South American country.

In a telephone interview with the Mail On Sunday, Melissa said she did not want to be in prison until she was 35 and was prepared to plead guilty in exchange for a short sentence.

Both are being held at the assessment centre of the prison in Lima while they await trial.

Both could face up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of the charges.

The newspaper reported that Michaella's lawyer Peter Madden has hinted that she, too, may plead guilty, saying: "It could happen".

He was unavailable for comment last night on how the move could affect his client's case.

Melissa – who described Michaella as "like a sister" to her and that the pair "keep each other going" – said despite possibly pleading guilty she still insisted she carried the drugs "under duress".

A deal could get her sentence cut from up to 25 years to six years and eight months.

"I am really scared about what I am about to do but I am also relieved that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel," she said.

"I'm now coming to terms with the fact I am so far away from my family. This is real.

"After a lot of thought and advice from my lawyer I am going to go in front of the judge and admit I was in possession of the drugs and that I went to Peru to pick up drugs to take to Spain – I am willing to plead guilty to that.

"I did it under duress, I still maintain that, and I am glad I do not have to say I accepted money to do it."

The 11kg of cocaine was found hidden in food packets in the luggage owned by the two women as they were trying to board a flight to Spain last month.

BACKGROUND

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid are accused of trying to smuggle 11kg of cocaine from Lima in Peru to the Spanish capital, Madrid. The haul, found in their luggage at Lima's international airport last month, was cut with bicarbonate of soda and starch, and concealed in porridge and jelly packets to mask the smell of drugs.

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