Video: Michaella Connolly quizzed over €1.7m Peru drugs
Irish woman and British national claim they were forced to carry cocaine in luggage
An Irish woman and a British national being held by Peruvian police on suspicion of drug trafficking offences have claimed that they were forced at gunpoint to carry €1.7m of cocaine in their luggage.
Photography student Michaella McCollum Connolly (20) and Scottish national Melissa Reid (19) were arrested last Tuesday while trying to board a flight from the Peruvian capital, Lima, to Palma Mallorca via Madrid.
The pair are due to appear in court tomorrow after police reportedly found more than 11.5kg of cocaine in their luggage.
According to Seán Walsh, an Irish-American bishop in Lima, the two women told him “there were a group of Colombians that actually took them at gunpoint and threatened them”.
“They held them...for a while and took them down to Morocco and back,” he said in an interview on RTÉ’s Liveline. “Now, I don’t know how that happened and I don’t know how they got over to Peru, there’s no direct flight from Morocco”.
Bishop Walsh had visted the pair at a prison in central Lima.
“If they threatened them in some way then that to me seems like a credible defence,” he said. “It seems that that is the case, that they are arguing that.”
The cleric added that he believed the women would plead innocence on the basis of coercion.
Ms McCollum Connolly’s family have said they are making travel arrangements for Peru.
In a statement from their solicitor, Peter Madden, they said they fully support her and have contacted help groups in Lima to ensure her needs are being met.
“Michaella has been questioned by the police and has denied involvement in any criminal offence,” Mr Madden said. “I am arranging legal representation for her in Lima.
“Michaella’s family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that [she] will be exonerated,” he said.
Mr Madden said he spoke to Michaella last night, who denied she was guilty of any offence, and confirmed she was not on hunger strike.
“She is finding it difficult to cope with the current situation, so far from home, but is optimistic,” he said. “The family want privacy at this time and hopefully this will be respected.”
Earlier today video footage of the two women being questioned by police emerged.
In the video, Ms Reid said she was forced to take the bags and was not aware they contained cocaine, which was concealed inside food packaging.
Bishop Walsh, who has been working with prisoners in Peru for several years, said he met with the two women for half an hour in the police offices of the holding centre.
He added that since the two women have been arrested they should not be concerned for their personal safety, but did caution that if they had presented the authorities in Peru, Spain, Britain or Ireland with specific information about the people who got them involved, those people “might retaliate”.
Prosecutors in Peru are likely to push for Ms McCollum Connolly, from Belfast, to be charged with drug trafficking, according to Ireland’s former honorary consul in Peru, Michael Russell.
Mr Russell said the charge would carry a higher sentence of between 15 and 25 years in prison, if they were convicted. This compares to about seven years if the two women were convicted of carrying half of the cocaine each.
However, he also added that on appeal this could probably be reduced to the “lesser charge”.
A UN report has noted Peru and Bolivia appeared to be the primary sources of cocaine smuggled into several European countries. The CIA ranks Peru as the world’s second largest producer of cocaine.
The video was provided by Reuters, while the clip of the girls being interviewed comes from a Peruvian police handout.