Missing Irish club hostess held in Peru over €1.75m cocaine allegation
A MISSING nightclub hostess has been arrested in Peru for her alleged involvement in trafficking cocaine with a potential street value of €1.75m.
The Irish Independent has learned that Belfast woman Michaella McCollum Connolly (20) is in a South American prison after being detained as she tried to board a plane for Spain in the Peruvian capital, Lima.
She was arrested with a 19-year-old British woman called Melissa Reid. Police claim they were found to have more than 11kg of cocaine products between them before they tried to board a plane for Madrid where they were due to get a connecting flight to Majorca.
Ms McCollum Connolly had been working in Ibiza and her family launched a desperate search to find her after not hearing from her for 12 days. An online publicity campaign was launched and her photo was circulated via social media.
But the Irish Independent has learned that the nightclub hostess was arrested in Lima on Tuesday by drug enforcement officers.
The development was announced on the official website of the National Police of Peru on Wednesday.
The women were detained the day before at an Air Europa counter by drug enforcement officers at the Jorge Chavez International Airport.
An Air Europa source confirmed that the two women had flown together with the same reservation number from Palma, Majorca on July 31, stopping in Madrid en route to Peru.
A statement from the National Police of Peru last Wednesday stated that the women were found to have over 11 kilos when they were detained and arrested at the airport.
The police said the bags of both women were searched later by officers at DIRANRO offices, Peru’s Anti-Drug Bureau, based at the airport.
It is alleged in the police statement that Ms McCollum Connolly is claimed to have been found with 16 envelopes containing an edible product of cocaine alkaloid weighing 5.810 kilos.
Ms Reid was claimed to have been found with 18 packets of an edible product containing alkaloid cocaine weighing 5.780 kilos in her luggage.
The value of one kilo of cocaine varies from country to country and depends on its purity.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police in London seized 11kg worth of cocaine which it said was worth €1.75m on the streets.
The statement also confirmed that the women detained were of British and Irish nationality.
The development is a dramatic turn around after the Belfast woman was at the centre of an online campaign launched by her worried family.
Ms McCollum Connolly had been living on the Crumlin Road, north Belfast, before leaving in mid-June for a working holiday in San Antonio, Ibiza, where she intended to work as a dancer and nightclub hostess.
When she had not been in contact for nine days, her family sparked off an unprecedented appeal for information on her whereabouts that reached millions through social media.
The popular dancer and nightclub hostess worked in Belfast before travelling to Ibiza as a break from studying all year as a photography student at Belfast Metropolitan College.
Her family believed she was trying to get bar work on the sunshine isle until their concerns were raised when she suddenly dropped out of contact earlier this month.
Friends of Ms McCollum Connolly on Facebook and Twitter began to urge friends and national celebrities to highlight the fact that the woman was missing, in a genuine attempt to help her family determine her whereabouts.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin confirmed yesterday that Ms McCollum Connolly, who is an Irish passport holder, was no longer considered to be missing and that it was providing consular assistance to her family.
The British Foreign Office confirmed it was helping a British national.
"We are aware of the arrest of a British national in Peru this week and are providing consular assistance," a spokeswoman said.
The Irish Independent was unable to contact Ms McCollum Connolly or her family.
Peru has the second highest rate in the world for arrest charges on people suspected of transporting drugs with 248 people, or drug ‘mules’, arrested at the airport in 2012.
Nearly 1,600 kilos of illegal drugs, mainly cocaine, was confiscated by those arrested as they attempted to transport the drugs to locations outside Peru.
Last year the majority of those arrested, 57, were Spanish citizens.
A press release from the National Police of Peru states that a wide variety of methods are used by convicted drug couriers. Of the 1,581 kilos of cocaine confiscated, 409 kilos were found inside suitcases, backpacks and satchels, 273 kilos were discovered in edible foods or food containers and 207 kilos were found inside metal items in these top three methods.