Sunday 24 September 2017

Michaella does U-turn and admits trying to smuggle cocaine haul out of Peru

THE Irishwoman accused of trying to smuggle €1.7m worth of cocaine out of Peru with a friend has pleaded guilty to the crime.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, a nightclub hostess, and Melissa Reid admitted in court they tried to board a flight from Lima to Spain with more than 11kg of the drug in their suitcases. Their court confession on the drug trafficking charges comes after they spent more than six weeks protesting their innocence.

They claimed they were forced into becoming drug mules by Colombian mafia who kidnapped them at gunpoint.

The U-turn makes it is likely both accused will be automatically sentenced to six years and eight months in jail, with sentencing expected to take place as early as next week.

A spokesman for the court in Callao said: "They will automatically have a sixth off from the minimum jail sentence of eight years and will be sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.

"Sentencing will take place on October 1 at a new hearing."

McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Reid, from Lenzie, near Glasgow, admitted their guilt at a private hearing at a makeshift prison courtroom.

The hearing was closed to the press and the public.

Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid stand in a holding cell during their hearing in Lima, Peru
Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid stand in a holding cell during their hearing in Lima, Peru
Court at Sarita Colonia del Callao men's prison for Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid's hearing
Michaella McCollum Connollyand Melissa Reid stand during their hearing
Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, and Melissa Reid are escorted from a prison truck by police at Sarita Colonia prison in Lima, Peru
Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, and Melissa Reid are escorted from a prison truck by police at Sarita Colonia prison in Lima, Peru

The pair told judge Pedro Miguel Puente Bardales they assumed "full responsibility" for their actions, the court said in a news release issued late last night.

The women's lawyer Meyer Fishman declined to comment afterwards.

But a spokesman for the court confirmed that both the accused, who are both 20, entered guilty pleas.

"It means they automatically benefit from a sixth off the minimum sentence of eight years and will be sentenced to six years and eight months in jail," the spokesman added.

Reid's parents – energy company manager Billy (54) and National Grid administrator Debra (53) – insisted last week they still believed their daughter had been coerced.

But they said a guilty plea was the best course of action for both women, who travelled to Peru from Ibiza where they had been working over the summer.

The pair faced up to 15 years in jail if convicted of drugs smuggling after a trial.

Reid, speaking from her jail cell, said: "After a lot of thought and advice from my lawyer, I'm going to admit I was in possession of the drugs and that I went to Peru to pick up drugs to take to Spain.

"Pleading guilty is going to get me back to my family sooner rather than later. I don't want to be in jail until I'm 35."

McCollum Connolly also confirmed at the weekend she also had a change of heart.

The women were arrested on August 6 as they tried to board an Air Europa flight from Lima to Madrid.

It had been hinted at the weekend that the women could expect smaller jail sentences if they co-operated as witnesses against the criminal gang they blame for coercing them.

But prosecutors appeared to crush their hopes of an early release by insisting a new law enacted two weeks after the women's arrest eliminated early parole for good behaviour of people convicted of drug trafficking.

The pair were expected to apply for permission to serve some of their sentence in the UK or Ireland.

By Gerard Couzens

Irish Independent

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