Peru drug arrests: credibility of suspects' claims in question
Doubt cast on gang coercion story told by Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly
DOUBTS have been cast on the claims made by two UK women arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking in Peru.
Melissa Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, both 20, have been accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Lima airport on 6 August.
The Peruvian police investigation is expected to be passed to the state prosecutor's office later today so formal charges can be made.
The women have insisted they were forced by an armed gang to travel from Ibiza, where they were working in bars and nightclubs, to Peru and transport the drugs back to Spain.
Peter Madden, a Belfast lawyer acting for McCollum Connolly, says his client was threatened with death by a gang of 14 armed men and is prepared to give the full details to police. However, First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, head of the anti-drug and organised crime police unit in Ibiza, has questioned the credibility of their story.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Particularly when you go to South America, you need to pass several controls so the first thing you [would] do is go to the passport control and say 'Listen, this is what is happening to me', and the police will react - so I don't think they were forced."
Meanwhile, a taxi driver, who claims he chauffeured the pair on a shopping spree around Lima before their arrest, says the women appeared "relaxed and happy", according to the Daily Mail.
Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, a criminology lecturer at the University of Leicester, has also said their experience did not appear to be typical. Women represent about 20 per cent of drug mules, she said, but added that "does not mean that their story is not plausible".
Police in Peru have said a guilty plea could mean the women face as little as two years in prison, while a not guilty plea carries the risk of a 25-year sentence if convicted.