Peru drug arrests: Teen could spend years in jail

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A SCOTTISH teenager accused by authorities in Peru of attempting to smuggle £1.5 million of cocaine out of the country could spend years in prison awaiting trial, it has emerged.

Melissa Reid, 19, was stopped with Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, who has an Irish passport, as they attempted to board a flight to Madrid last week.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, left and Melissa Reid, right, are seen facing police questioning. Picture: Complimentary

Michaella McCollum Connolly, left and Melissa Reid, right, are seen facing police questioning. Picture: Complimentary

Under Peru’s drug laws, the two women could face up to seven years in prison, or up to 25 years if one is convicted of carrying the full amount alone.

However, Fair Trials International, which works to protect the legal rights of anyone facing charges in another country, said the pair may have to wait up to three years for a trial.

Yesterday, video footage of the women emerged showing the moments following their arrest at Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport. In the video, Ms Reid, from Lenzie in East Dunbartonshire, is questioned by a police interviewer and is heard to say: “I was forced to take these bags in my luggage.”

When asked if she knew they contained drugs, she said: “I did not know that.”

The National Police of Peru said they found more than 24lb of cocaine hidden in food in the luggage of the two women.

Bruno Min, assistance coordinator for Fair Trials International, said the women could be held pre-charge for up to 30 days, and then could spend up to three years in prison before a trial.

“They can be held pre-charge for 15 days for drugs cases; that can be extended for another 15 days,” he said.“And if they are charged, they will be sent to prison before their trial goes ahead and we understand that the maximum period for pre-trial detention is 36 months.

“If you are charged with a drugs offence, it is our understanding you are very unlikely to get released before your trial – you’re almost ineligible for bail. There is the likelihood that they could end up spending 36 months in pre-trial detention.”

He added: “Peru is one of those countries where the justice system suffers from delays. It’s not uncommon for people to complain to us about delays in their cases.”

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum Connolly both left home for separate holidays in Ibiza earlier this summer.

Last week, Ms McCollum Connolly was at the centre of a Facebook and online social media appeal after her family said they had not had any contact with her for 12 days. The first they heard was when she turned up in Peruvian police custody.

Ms Reid’s mother, Debra, told reporters she thought her daughter was in Ibiza with friends and had no idea she had travelled to Peru.

Ms Reid flew to Ibiza in June and had posted numerous pictures of herself with friends on the Spanish holiday island on her Facebook page. Her last post was on 21 July. The women are said to be in custody in a police station in Lima.

Lead investigator Major Manuel Siclla said: “They are OK, but are obviously worried about their families and what the future holds for them.

“Like anyone else involved in drug smuggling, they will be tried and face long prison sentences if convicted. We take this problem very seriously and courts are very strict about the enforcement of the law.”

Police in Peru say young women are often recruited by drug gangs in Spain, providing free drink and drugs, before demanding something in return.

Sources in Lima are reported to have said the two women were approached by members at the “lower end” of a cartel acting for one of the country’s major drug organisations.

Investigators are understood to be looking at all the women’s recent financial transactions to establish who paid for their air fares to Peru.

The Foreign Office in London confirmed it was helping a British national. The Irish Embassy in Mexico City is also helping Ms McCollum Connolly and her family.