independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Michaella had €4,000 debt before arrest in Peru

MICHAELLA'S JOURNEY FROM PEARLS TO PRISON

A DEALER forced Michaella McCollum Connolly to smuggle cocaine out of Peru in order to pay off a €4,000 debt.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, faces spending up to eight years in one of the world's toughest prison regimes following her arrest earlier this month.

A Sunday Independent investigation today reveals how Michaella struggled financially when she moved to the party island of Ibiza in June. She worked casually at three separate bars on the island, but then became linked with an English drug dealer.

And, we can reveal that Michaella made a number of separate trips from Ibiza to the Spanish mainland in the six weeks she spent there prior to her arrest in Peru.

Several sources reveal the Co Tyrone model ran up a debt with the English dealer, who then coerced her into transporting the drugs from Peru to Spain in order to pay it off.

The drug dealer has since gone to ground, and has not been seen in Ibiza since Michaella was first reported missing.

Michaella worked in a number of bars on the main strip of the town of San Antonio, a resort that is very popular with young Irish revellers.

According to friends and former colleagues in San Antonio, Michaella did not live at a fixed address in Ibiza.

She spent most of her time with the English dealer, who has not been seen on the island since Michaella and Scottish woman Melissa Reid were arrested at Lima airport on suspicion of trying to smuggle an estimated €1.7m worth of cocaine out of the country.

Former colleagues who spoke to the Sunday Independent revealed many of Michaella's former "crew" in San Antonio have all gone to ground since news of her arrest broke.

They told how she fell into debt of around €4,000 with the dealer.

One teenager --who was too afraid to be identified -- said: "I've been told by a few people not to talk to you, and to tell you to stop poking around and just run."

The nervous girl said she was "shocked" when she heard "Mic" was arrested. "She was such a good girl and I couldn't believe that she had got caught up in all that. When Mic was going back and forth to mainland Spain, I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I see it totally differently," she added.

The girl frankly admitted that she uses MDMA and also sells it to make money to pay for entry to the big clubs and to cover her rent.

She said "80 to 90 per cent" of her contemporaries on the island sell drugs to supplement their basic income.

In her first job on the island, at an events company, her manager gave her a bag of MDMA to sell. "I can sell it for like 10 times what I got it for and it's so easy to do," she said.

The girl said it was unusual that Michaella never rented a place of her own.

"Everyone comes out here, finds an apartment, a job and gets partying. Michaella always worked on and off on the strip but less so by the end of July. We still partied together but she was always in the VIP areas, mostly with that English guy. Mic used to boast about all the free stuff she got and how she never paid in. It's like at least a grand to get into those areas," she told the Sunday Independent.

In an interview from her jail cell in Peru earlier this week, Michaella told how she was introduced to another Englishman in a bar on the island on July 25.

She claimed that, two days later, she was held hostage in his dingy flat in Ibiza with a group of men, who were "armed and looked South American".

analysis by Brendan O'Connor and Maeve Sheehan, page 29

The 20-year-old said she was held inside a single room for three days before being ordered to get a ferry to Majorca. According to Melissa, it was here the young women met for the first time. According to the young women, they were then flown to Peru where they were ordered to smuggle the drugs out of the country.

The Sunday Independent last week visited an apartment complex that houses at least 500 mostly bar and club workers in Ibiza, where both Michaella and Melissa were known to have lived.

Despite Michaella's claim that she only met her co-accused after she was "kidnapped", separate sources said the young women lived together for a time.

The apartment block is described by most as a "drug den" with workers hanging around in zombie-like states after consuming ketamine. The blocks of flats are filthy inside, covered in graffiti, some without door frames and bare mattresses lying around.

The block is located 10 minutes outside of San Antonio town centre, but is very close to Michaella's first place of employment, Bay Bar.

One staff member recalls how he approached the Tyrone woman to ask her if she was looking for work when he saw her walking along the promenade outside.

He told the Sunday Independent: "She was good-looking and very chatty and just good with people. She trialled with us for three days and I offered her the job because she was good and got people in. I wanted to hire her but she never showed again. I ran into her [later] and asked her what happened. She had a long story about not having her papers and getting locked out of her apartment. I heard she got work in another bar after that."

Michaella later got a job working in the Amsterdam Bar in San Antonio, where she briefly dated a member of staff. Former colleagues said she worked as a "shot girl" and was hired to mix with revellers and sell them spirits.

We visited the bar last Thursday night and witnessed party-goers openly consuming pills at the back of the graffiti-filled venue. On one occasion, three males entered the single-cubicle male toilet, left the door open and one man took a tissue from his pocket which contained pills. Each man consumed one. There is a store room where others kept running into in groups of four or five, locking the door hurriedly behind them. They emerged giddily seconds later.

The staff member who dated Michaella said she had lived with him briefly, but moved out and left her job there to take work as a 'go-go' dancer in the exclusive Ocean Beach Club. Nobody at the club could confirm she worked there.

Drug use is widespread and clearly visible on the streets of San Antonio. Many vulnerable young people -- Michaella and Melissa -- who travel to the island in search of fun and money quickly find themselves targeted by drug gangs.

One man who was born in Ibiza and has spent the last 12 years ferrying revellers around the island told the Sunday Independent: "I see drug debt every summer. These guys and girls are having a good time and think the drugs are free. But they're never free."

Every person the Sunday Independent spoke to that knew Michaella staunchly disbelieved that she was kidnapped. "Is that what she's saying?" asked an astonished former colleague.

Many people laughed when they heard that Michaella and Melissa women had claimed they were kept hostage.

"That's a bit far-fetched," another former colleague said, adding that Michaella had ample opportunity to approach authorities in the various airports she passed through on her way to Peru.

Another female source said there was no real need to kidnap someone to get them to smuggle drugs because. "there are plenty of people out here who'd go willingly -- I could find you 10 in an hour."

Sunday Independent

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