Tuesday 6 December 2016

Michaella 'may have been part of 10-person smuggling ring'

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

Former anti-narcotics chief in Peru Ricardo Soberón and, inset, convicted drug mule Michaella McCollum
Former anti-narcotics chief in Peru Ricardo Soberón and, inset, convicted drug mule Michaella McCollum
Main picture: Former anti-narcotics chief Ricardo Soberón in Lima, Peru. Inset left: Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid after their arrest in 2013; Inset right: Michaella in Lima this week

The former anti-narcotics chief in Peru says Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid may have been part of a 10-person smuggling ring on the day of their capture.

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"From our experience and investigations, we know that traffickers will usually try and use up to 10 people on a single flight," former drugs czar Ricardo Soberón told the Irish Independent.

"Some will carry the cocaine in their suitcases, and others will swallow it. In the past number of years they are almost always Europeans and put in pairs," he said.

"They will come for a two-week holiday, everything will be paid for by the traffickers, and they will have a nice time in Peru. Then they will collect the drugs or they will be brought to them, usually the night before the flight, and go to the airport.

"As is well documented, we have certain rogue members of security services here. Corruption continues to be a big problem.

"The deal usually is two or three people will be stopped with the drugs by the police in the airport and the others will get through.

Main picture: Former anti-narcotics chief Ricardo Soberón in Lima, Peru. Inset left: Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid after their arrest in 2013; Inset right: Michaella in Lima this week
Main picture: Former anti-narcotics chief Ricardo Soberón in Lima, Peru. Inset left: Michaella McCollum (left) and Melissa Reid after their arrest in 2013; Inset right: Michaella in Lima this week

"In the media the next day, it looks fantastic. They say 'look, we have found the drugs' but in truth more is slipping through."

The numbers of tourists involved in drug smuggling from Peru to Europe has reached "epidemic levels", he added.

"It is harder to send Peruvians and South Americans to Europe. We don't have as many tourists going there.

"It is easier to offer young people a free holiday and in some cases, €20,000, maybe more, to move the goods.

"But I don't think they should go to prison here if they are caught. I was involved in Michaella's case before, and I said then she should have been sent home.

"We should not waste our tax money on these people. They should be extradited and banned from Peru. That's it," he said.

"We have over 200 Spaniards and 50 English people in jail here alone at the moment for smuggling. It is out of control."

Mr Soberón added that McCollum (23), from Tyrone, would probably be home by the end of the year.

"She will be home very soon," he said.

"Most likely by the end of the year. Of course, it would be very easy for her to cross the border to Ecuador and fly home from there also before her parole is finished."

McCollum and Reid were arrested at Lima airport in 2013 while trying to board an Air Europa flight with a final destination in Ibiza, Spain, via Madrid.

Initially, both women claimed they had been recruited as "mules" by an armed gang while working in bars on the party island and they were forced to travel to South America under duress.

But later they accepted the charges and pleaded guilty before a court in the Peruvian capital of Lima to trying to smuggle 11kg of cocaine - worth €1.8m - out of the country.

They were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, although they could have faced a sentence of 15 years.

Under new legislation which came into force in Peru in 2015, McCollum was let out on parole last Thursday night.

Drug trafficking expert Mr Soberón was appointed as chief of Peru's National Commission for the Development of Life Without Drugs (Devida) in 2011.

The appointment was made by an official resolution signed by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and then Prime Minister Salomon Lerner. In 2012, he took the top anti-narcotic post of drugs czar but resigned a year later over a lack of internal support for his policies.

Irish Independent

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