An Irishwoman could face up to 25 years in a “pretty dour and horrible jail” if she’s convicted of drug trafficking in Peru.
Michaella McCollum-Connolly, 20, a nightclub hostess from Belfast, sparked a massive online campaign after she disappeared from Ibiza before it emerged she had been arrested in Lima last Tuesday along with Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland, while trying to board a flight to Madrid.
Peruvian police said they’d discovered 5.5kg of cocaine hidden amongst food in each of the women’s luggage when they were stopped at the Air Europa counter at the county’s international airport.
The 11kg of cocaine is said to be worth around €1.7m.
In Peru, the woman could be held in custody for up to 15 days without charge.
Michael Russell, former Irish Consul General in Lima, said the Peruvian authorities view drug trafficking as “a very serious issue”. He said that if Ms McCollum-Connolly was found guilty of just the 5.5kg she had on her she would probably face seven years in jail. But, if she was charged with organising the trafficking of the full 11kg, she could face anything from 15 to 25 years.
“The prisons there are pretty dour and horrible,” Mr Russell said.
He believes that the authorities may charge Ms McCollum-Connolly with the lesser amount and which would lead on conviction to around seven years in jail.
Mr Russell said the Peruvians normally let foreigners out after serving a third of their sentence.
Ms McCollum-Connolly had been at the centre of a Facebook and online social media appeal, backed by Irish sports stars, desperately seeking information about her whereabouts over the past two weeks.
The Foreign Office in London confirmed it was helping a British national.
“We are aware of the arrest of a British national in Peru this week and are providing consular assistance,” a spokeswoman said.
Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it was also providing consularassistance to the family of Ms McCollum-Connolly.
The photography student had gone to Ibiza in June on a working holiday.
She was looking for work as a dancer and nightclub hostess.
Her family said she usually phoned home every two to three days and they becameconcerned when she had failed to contact them.
Ms Reid’s family is reported to be in shock after learning about her arrest.
Her father William, 66, said: “We don’t know anything, we haven’t beentold anything.
“We don’t have any new information. We are not in a position to elaborate.
“We’re in the position where we are just trying to come to terms with it.”
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