Peru Drug Arrests Turned Over to Prosecutor; Police Doubt Women's Story

Monday, 19 Aug 2013 03:53 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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The Peruvian police investigation into drug-trafficking allegations involving two women from Scotland and Ireland will likely be turned over to state prosecutors, paving the way for the filing of formal charges, the BBC reported Monday.

Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, near Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, both 20, are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m (More than $2.2 million) worth of cocaine from Peru to Spain.

Adding to their legal difficulties, Spanish authorities have cast doubt on their claim to have been coerced into carrying illicit drugs found on their persons.

Police say the drugs were found in food packets in their luggage at Lima airport Aug. 6 as they attempted to board a flight from the Peruvian capital to Madrid. Both women deny the allegations, saying armed men forced them at gunpoint to travel from the Spanish island of Ibiza - where they had been working in bars - to Peru.

Shadowed by gang members along the way, they claim to have been forced to pick up drugs in Peru and smuggle them back to Europe, and say they were told that if they failed to do as instructed, their families would be killed, The Guardian reported.

Legal experts in Peru suggest they could be charged with drug smuggling, which carries an average sentence of about eight to nine years in prison.

If found guilty of membership in a criminal organization, they could face harsher sentences.

If denied bail, they could face up to three years in jail before trial.

Lead Peruvian police anti-drug investigator Tito Perez told the BBC his unit had been checking into the women's version of events by travelling to the hotels they had stayed in. Officers had also gathered video evidence from the city of Cusco where they claimed the drug gang had taken them.

Its report is due to form the basis of the pre-trial hearing which will determine what the two young women will be charged with.

Reid and McCollum had been working at bars in San Antonio, Ibiza - a popular resort for thousands of young British tourists every summer - when they said they were befriended by a man from London.

They claimed they were then forced at gunpoint to make the journey to Peru, shadowed by gang members along the way.

But the head of the Spanish police unit responsible for countering organized crime expressed doubt that the pair were acting under duress.

“In my experience, I don’t think these two girls were forced to do this, because –particularly when you go to South America - you need to pass several controls [often checkpoints manned by police], said First Sgt. Alberto Adrian Barilla.

If they were really acting under duress, they had the opportunity to flag down police and explain what was going on, he said.

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