CONVICTED drugs smuggler Michaella McCollum Connolly is one step closer to returning home to Northern Ireland after the Department of Justice cleared the way for her repatriation from Peru.
McCollum's legal team said today that justice officials in the North confirmed they are "satisfied" to accept the 21-year-old as a prisoner.
While McCollum is awaiting final approval from the Peruvian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, her solicitor Kevin Winters said he does not foresee the move being blocked.
"While this represents progress, let me be very clear, the final decision is over to the Peruvians.
"However, we have been given no indication that they will have any difficulty processing [the repatriation]," Mr Winters told the Herald.
McCollum (21) and her accomplice Melissa Reid (21) from Scotland were jailed in the South American country after they admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth €1.8m from Spain.
The two women rose to prominence in the summer of 2013 when their families launched a social media plea after they went missing in Ibiza.
It later emerged that McCollum and Reid had been arrested at Lima Airport after being caught with 11kg of cocaine in their bags.
They first claimed they had been kidnapped and forced to carry it by Columbian gangsters before pleading guilty.
Mr Winters said the authorities in the North have been given all the relevant documentation "to enable them to make a decision".
But he said the final green light must be given by the Peruvian Department of Justice and Human Rights.
He said he cannot put a timeframe on when the repatriation will be completed.
Mr Winters said he spoke to Ms McCollum before Christmas, adding that she has "no complaints in relation to how she is being treated by the prison authorities" in Peru.
It has been hoped that McCollum would be home by Christmas. However, the process in Peru was stalled as authorities there continue to process new laws relating to foreign prisoners being repatriated.