British women charged in Peru with drug trafficking

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 21, 2013 11:29 AM
British women charged in Peru with drug trafficking

LIMA (Reuters) - Two British women have been charged in Peru with drug trafficking and could face up to 18 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

Michaella McCollum, of Dungannon in Northern Ireland, and Melissa Reid, from near Glasgow in Scotland, were arrested at Lima airport two weeks ago after 11 kg (24 lb) of cocaine worth 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million) was found in their luggage, according to authorities.

The women, both 20, had spent the summer working in bars on Ibiza, a Mediterranean island drawing 700,000 British holidaymakers each year. They said they had been forced to become drug mules by an armed gang and traveled to Peru under duress.

Peruvian prosecutors pressed charges against the pair late on Tuesday and said the crime carried a maximum penalty of 15-18 years imprisonment.

"It should be noted that the prosecution has gathered sufficient evidence to suspect the alleged responsibility of both people," the ministry said in a statement.

McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden told British media that both women would plead not guilty.

The women, who are likely to be held in jail until their trial in a few months' time, had been trying to board a flight to Madrid from Lima when they were detained.

McCollum and Reid became friends while working in San Antonio, Ibiza's capital.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima and Belinda Goldsmith in London; editing by Andrew Roche)