TWO women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5million out of Peru have been refused bail and could now face up to three years in prison while they await trial.
Michaella McCollum Connolly (20) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone and Melissa Reid (20), from Glasgow, were yesterday formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking during a public hearing at a court in Callao, a port city west of Peru’s capital, Lima.
Both women deny the drug trafficking allegations and claim they were forced to carry the bags by armed men.
The two women were both present for the hearing where Judge Dilo Huaman said that there was enough evidence to formally charge them with the illegal trafficking of just over 11kg of cocaine.
They were then led away in handcuffs and remanded in custody after their pleas for bail were rejected.
They are currently being housed in another courthouse in Lima and will then be moved to one of Peru's women’s prisons.
Saying that both would continue to plead not guilty, Ms McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden – who is from Belfast - said that the women were becoming increasingly worried at the prospect of being held in prison whilst awaiting trial.
He said: "Their main concern at the moment is that they may be separated, they may be sent to different prisons and they are both very concerned that that might happen.
"They didn't know each other before all this started, they've now become best friends."
He said that both women maintain that they had been threatened at gunpoint in Ibiza where they had been working since the beginning of June, adding they were forced under duress to travel to Peru to smuggle cocaine in their luggage.
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He added that on Tuesday there was an unexpected change in Peru’s law which meant that the hearing was held in public, rather than in private.
Mr Madden said that the women, their families and their lawyers were entirely unaware of this change in regulation.
“What was particularly upsetting was that the families of the two girls were not present at the hearing because they had been told that the session would take place in strict privacy with only the judge, the accused and relevant legal representatives allowed to attend.”
Ms Connolly and Ms Reid were arrested whilst trying to board a flight to Madrid on August 6 at Lima airport.
The penalty for drug trafficking in Peru carries an average prison sentence of between eight and nine years, but lengthier sentences of up to 15 years may be awarded if found to be a member of a criminal organisation.