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Friday 9 December 2016

Police lift lid on McCollum's web of lies as upmarket Lima becomes her home

Published 07/04/2016 | 02:30

The Peruvian anti-drugs officer reviews his files on Michaella McCollum Photo: Mark Condren
The Peruvian anti-drugs officer reviews his files on Michaella McCollum Photo: Mark Condren
Michaella McCollum
A picture of Michaella McCollum taken by Peru Police . Pic:Mark Condren

One of Peru's highest-ranking police officers has lifted the lid on the web of lies spun by drug mules Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid after their 2013 capture.

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The officer, who cannot be named, yesterday took the Irish Independent through his files and notes on the pair in his Lima office.

One of the lead investigators with the South American nation's elite 'Dinandro' anti-drugs unit, the officer said the Peru Two first told police they had won their trip to Peru.

"Their first story before they mentioned about being kidnapped was that they had been given a trip to Peru as a present," said the officer.

"They said they were tourists and that they had come to visit Machu Picchu.

"The 'chicas' stated that they were bringing the food packages that were found in their suitcases back for someone who had helped with the trip and that they had no idea of the contents.

"At first, we believed them. They put on a convincing show; they were calm, but as time went on holes started showing in their accounts," he continued. "Next thing we had this account of the kidnap, which of course we knew to be false. They never cooperated with the police."

Former photography student and part-time model McCollum was freed from Ancon Dos prison at 5pm last Thursday.

A picture of Michaella McCollum taken by Peru Police .
Pic:Mark Condren
A picture of Michaella McCollum taken by Peru Police . Pic:Mark Condren

Since then she has been swanning around one of Lima's most affluent neighbourhoods with family and friends and has been living in the Miraflores district.

Situated close to the beach and a bevy of high-end stores and restaurants, a standard apartment in the area usually fetches around €1,900 per month.

She fled questions from this newspaper earlier this week after we tracked her down to the trendy district.

Sporting a fetching new blonde hairstyle, the convicted drug smuggler refused to answer questions before fleeing in a taxi.

Her striking new image sparked outrage across Ireland, after her appearance on RTÉ last Sunday, which many have branded as being disingenuous and fake.

Revealing a very different picture of the 23-year-old Tyrone woman yesterday, the police officer said it took over a day for McCollum to finally break down.

He said the aspiring dancer and model from Dungannon was cool and aloof.

He said she had even been filmed laughing and eating doughnuts hours after their arrest.

However, the situation quickly changed when police took her mugshot a day after her arrest on August 7, 2013.

Pointing at the image, he said McCollum, who was just 20 at the time, had been sobbing minutes before the shot was captured.

The picture shows a dishevelled-looking McCollum with swollen red cheeks and puffed-up eyes.

"All the time they were very calm," he said. "Apart from in the queue at the airport.

"Our people there know what to look for, small things like body language and they were a bit nervous," he said.

Police uncovered 16 food packages in McCollum's bag containing 5.8kg of cocaine shortly after 8.10am on August 6 2013. In Glaswegian Melissa Reid's luggage investigators found 5.7kg of the drug concealed in 18 similar food containers.

They were caught while trying to board an Air Europa flight with a final destination in Mallorca, Spain, via Madrid.

The pair fought charges against them for months claiming a host of wide-eyed stories as to events surrounding their circumstances.

However, they later accepted the charges and pleaded guilty before a court in the Peruvian capital of trying to smuggle 11.5kg 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 week.

The only stipulation of her release is that she must sign a document at Lima courthouse once a month and remain in the country until she has completed two-thirds of her initial sentence.

"She is now free to do as she pleases," said a source, "she should not be out on the streets. Our laws have become too lenient.

"This is an epidemic that is growing with Europeans at the moment," he added.

"Demand for cocaine in Europe is at record levels. In Australia and Russia the price for a kilo is an average of €285,000 - on mainland Europe an average of €70,000."

The source said that the majority of the drugs exported by mules from Peru are landing in Holland and Spain. Between 2008 and 2013, some 612 individuals were stopped trying to board flights bound for Spain while 248 people were intercepted en route to Amsterdam.

In the same year the Peru Two were captured, 705 kilos of cocaine were discovered at Lima Airport and 212 people arrested.

Reid remains in a Peruvian jail while she seeks to serve the remainder of her sentence in Scotland. The request was approved by the Scottish Prison Service in January 2015. However, any transfer will depend on the decision taken by the prison authorities of Peru.

Irish Independent

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