A SENIOR police official in charge of an organised crime taskforce in Ibiza has questioned claims by a Scot that she and another woman were coerced into trying to smuggle a shipment of drugs out of Peru.
Melissa Reid, from Woodilee near Lenzie, in East Dunbartonshire, and Michaella McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima.
The women, both aged 20, are expected to appear in court in Lima this week, and if found guilty, could face lengthy prison sentences. They claim they were forced into the plot by a gang in Ibiza, who threatened their lives and those of their families.
However, First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, head of the anti-drug and organised crime police unit at the Guardia Civil in Ibiza, said their account of what happened went against his knowledge of trafficking cases, adding that they had several opportunities to inform the authorities of what was happening.
He said: “Sincerely, with my experience, I don’t think these girls were forced to do this because, particularly when you go to South America, you need to pass several consuls, so the first thing you [would] do is go to the passport consul and say ‘Listen, this is what is happening to me’, and the police will react – so I don’t think they were forced.”
The women, who had been working in San Antonio, have said they were forced at gunpoint to make the journey from the Spanish holiday island after being befriended by a man from London who called himself Jake.
They said they were shadowed by gang members throughout the journey and warned that if they did not pick up the 11 kilos of cocaine in Peru and return them to Spain hidden in food in their luggage, their families would be killed.
In a video released by the National Police of Peru of the women being questioned after their arrest, Ms Reid said: “I was forced to take these bags in my luggage.”
Police in Spain said they will investigate the claims.
Ms Reid has told her father, William – who flew out to Peru last week to visit her – that neither she nor Ms McCollum Connolly were involved in Ibiza’s drug culture.
The 53-year-old said: “I did think initially there was a chance she might have taken drugs in Ibiza and maybe got mixed up in something. But I asked her directly more than once if that was the case. I told her that, while I don’t condone it, it doesn’t matter now, and she insisted she hadn’t. I believe her.”
In an interview with the Irish Daily Mail, Ms McCollum Connolly said she was “relieved” when she was apprehended with Ms Reid. She said: “We didn’t know before that what they wanted us to take – guns, money, drugs. There was no option. We just wanted to get it over and done with and not be killed.”
Peter Madden, a Belfast lawyer who is representing Ms McCollum Connolly reiterated that his client had been kidnapped and forced to carry the drugs, explaining: “She wasn’t offered any money, she was threatened and held. She is now prepared and ready to give full details to the police.”
Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, a criminology lecturer at the University of Leicester who has researched the involvement of women in the international drugs trade, said that while the women’s experience did not appear typical, people should not presume that the pair intended to smuggle the drugs.
She said: “Anyone who researches this issue finds people who have been coerced.”