Drug suspects interviewed by Peruvian police

Michaella McCollum Connolly’s lawyer again insists she was forced to smuggle cocaine


Cocaine smuggling suspects Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid have been interrogated by police in the anti-drugs unit in Lima.

The women were questioned about events leading up to their arrest for drug trafficking eleven days ago.

Ms McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Ms Reid, who is Scottish, are accused of drug trafficking after over 11kg of cocaine was found hidden in their luggage as they checked in to an Aer Europa flight last week at Lima International airport.

Both women are being represented by local lawyers Fischman & Fischman since their defence must be acredited by the Peruvian government and the bar association of Peru.

Belfast lawyer Peter Madden, who is representing Ms McCollum, and official state interpreters have also been present in all the proceedings.

“We spent seven hours on Friday evening going through Michaella’s version of events,” Mr Madden told The Irish Times last night. “She was taken at gunpoint, she was tricked into going to an apartment, a gun was produced and put to her head.

“It was a very, very serious ordeal she describes. She forced to fly to Palma, Majorca after threats were made and a copy of her passport was produced as well as photos of her family which she thinks came from Facebook. ”

Mr Madden said Ms McCollum, who has been living in Ibiza, was told she had to follow instructions and was in fear right through the whole process. She had been out of touch with her family because she was told people were watching her and there would be serious consequences if she made any contact with her family.

“The bizzare aspect of this is that she was instructed to fly to Lima, meet Melissa and then go together to Cuzco posing as tourists so that when they came back to the airport they would be able to show that they were on a tourist trip,” he said. “The girls were given a camera and instructed to pose in photographs smiling, so that if they were stopped by authorities they could convince them they were tourists.”

The local police are in possession of the camera and photographs taken by the two women.

When they returned to Lima from Cuzco, the two women were instructed to carry luggage with food packages in it, he said. “At that stage, even though Michaella didn’t know what was in the packages, she had her suspicions.”

Mr Madden also confirmed that the plan was to return to Palma, Mallorca with the drugs. He also said that it seems to be a gang that operates in both Spain and Peru.

“It was a pretty sophisticated operation and was very well planned,” he said. “It started off in Ibiza and then Palma, Mallorca and there was a man in Lima who organised the drugs.

“They were under instructions throughout the whole process. Michaella was told there would be someone watching her at all times, and if she tried to do anything she would be dealt with.”

A report has been sent to the state prosecutor, who will put it before a judge once he has decided on the charges, if any.

According to Mr Madden, it is likely that they will appear before a judge on Tuesday. He is unsure if the case will be heard somewhere else or in the same unit where the girls are being held. “I am not sure yet because we haven’t been told, the police don’t let us know until the last minute” he said. “We are expecting that it will be on Tuesday although there is no guarantee, but we will be ready for that.”

He also confirmed that once the judge decides whether or not there is a case to answer, they will be transferred to a prison, most likely Santa Monica, a women’s prison on the outskirts of Lima.

“Michaella is pretty worried, it is an alien environment and it is a pretty grim place for a young 20-year-old girl.”

Mr Madden said that once the preliminary stages are over, he intends to organise a defense team, in co-ordination with the Peruvian lawyers, to prepare a case. The defence case will centre on their assertion that the women were coerced into flying to Peru to collect the drugs and take them to Mallorca.

He also expressed his concern that the girls could be held for months or even years before the case goes to trial, effectively serving time before they ever receive a verdict.

“ I have serious concerns about this process. If Michaella wants to defend herself, she has to get a trial and there is no chance of bail [while awaiting trial]. She is going to be actually serving a prison sentence whether or not she gets acquitted,” he said. “I am looking into whether or not there is any way to challenge that and will be discussing it with the lawyers to see if anything can done.”