Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Peru drug mules: Michaella McCollum Connolly prosecutors block reduced sentences

Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

Drug mule Michaella McCollum Connolly has suffered a dramatic setback to her hopes of an early return home, after prosecutors said she hadn't told them enough about a drugs gang to earn early release.

The Co Tyrone cocaine smuggler and her co-accused, Melissa Reid, had been expecting to be sentenced to a reduced jail term next Tuesday after admitting drugs trafficking.

But the case took a major twist last night after prosecutors said they wanted the women to tell them more about the Colombian mafia gang that sent them to Peru to pick up £1.5m of cocaine first.

Instead of being sentenced next week, the women are now expected to be asked to make new statements in court instead.

Prosecutors said they would be submitting a formal request tomorrow to the court for new statements to be taken – and insisted Dungannon woman Michaella and Melissa could not benefit from a sentence reduction without their agreement.

The pair decided to plead guilty on Tuesday after weeks of protesting their innocence so they could benefit from early release under Peruvian law – guaranteeing them an eighth off the minimum eight-year prison sentence.

Court officials were still claiming yesterday the women would be sentenced next week – and it is thought Michaella has yet to be made aware of the latest setback.

Juan Mendoza Abarca, head of the anti-drug state prosecution unit prosecuting the women, said: "We want to get to the men behind them and we want more information off them to do that.

"It's not enough to say you've killed someone and not say how or why.

"All these girls have said is 'We're guilty' and very little else.

"They've given a four-line statement to the court which doesn't help us track down the gang that sent them to Peru in the first place.

"For the women to benefit from the early termination process and receive a reduced prison sentence, all sides including state prosecutors have to be in agreement.

"As things stand, we don't agree to them benefitting from the early termination process.

"We are writing to the court to demand the women give new and fuller evidence in another court hearing.

"It's not an appeal and it's not something the judge has any control over. All he has control over is the date of the new hearing.

"What I can say for sure is there will be no sentencing next Tuesday."

Without agreement on all sides on early release, the women will have to stand trial and face between eight and 15 years in jail if convicted.

Prosecutors said before the women made their guilty plea they did not believe their claims they had been forced to smuggle drugs by armed Colombian mafia in Ibiza, where they had been working over the summer.

Michaella and Melissa, from Lenzie near Edinburgh, who are both 20, were arrested at Lima's Jorge Chavez airport on August 6 as they tried to fly to Spain with more than 11 kilos of cocaine in their suitcases.

STORY SO FAR

A Facebook appeal was launched in early August by Michaella McCollum Connolly's family when they didn't hear from her for nine days while she was on a working holiday to Ibiza. It was later revealed she and another young woman had been arrested at Jorge Chavez International Airport, Lima in Peru for having over 11kg of cocaine – valued over £1.5m – in their luggage. Peru has just been confirmed again by the United Nations as the top producer of cocaine in the world.

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