SPANISH police have poured cold water on claims by a N0rthern Ireland woman and her travelling companion that they were forced at gunpoint by a drug cartel to smuggle £1.5 million of drugs out of Peru.
Michaela McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid have been languishing in a police compound for narcotic suspects for almost two weeks in Lima after their arrest for drug trafficking.
Police in Peru say that if the pair are found guilty they are facing eight years in prison for the offence.
However, that sentence could be reduced if they co-operate with investigating detectives.
Ms Connolly’s Belfast solicitor Peter Madden visited her on Friday and says she is not guilty of the drug trafficking claims.
“She was in fact kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain and carry drugs back to Lima,” Mr Madden said.
“She wasn’t offered any money, she was threatened and held. She is now prepared and ready to give full details to the police who are in a questioning process.”
He said the two women were likely to appear in court next week.
“Once that questioning process is over, the questions and answers go to a judge, who will then decide whether there’s a prime facie case and that’ll probably be next week, possibly Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.
“Melissa is already in the process of being questioned during this procedure and that’s wrapping up now, then Michaella will be questioned in the same process.
“I think there is a hope, but it depends very much on the prosecuting authorities here as to whether or not they’re going to do this in a fair way, because the process here seems to be that once you’re charged there’s no bail for these type of offences and she will have to go to trial.”
The two women deny they were deliberately trying to smuggle the drugs out of the country through airport security.
They say that they they were forced at gunpoint to make the journey from the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza – where they had been working in bars – after being befriended by a man from London.
They said they were shadowed by gang members throughout the journey and warned that if they did not pick up the drugs in Peru and bring them back to Spain their families would be killed.
However, the head of the Ibiza police organised crime unit, is highly sceptical of their claims.
First sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, said he did not believe they were acting under duress.
“In my experience I don’t think these two girls were forced to do this because – particularly when you go to South America – you need to pass several controls,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“The first thing you do is go to the passport control and say ‘Listen, this is what is happening to me’.
“The policeman will react so I don’t think they were forced,” he added.
Michaela McCollum Connolly, 20, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Melissa Reid, 19, from Glasgow, were arrested last week as they attempted to leave Jorge Chavez Internatonal Airport in Lima with 11 kilos of cocaine in their luggage worth £1.5 million.
They were detained after a drugs sniffer dog picked up a narcotics scent from their luggage.
When initially interviewed by police on camera, the pair said that they did not know their was drugs in their luggage.
When their bags were searched, police the 11 kilos of Peruvian cocaine hidden inside food bags.
They may be held pre-charge for up to 30 days and could then spend up to three years in prison before a trial.
It is expected the two ‘drug mules’ will appear in court by Monday, August 19, but no later than Wednesday, August 21.