6 Aug 2014

Peru drugs smuggler to be transferred to Northern Ireland

One of two women jailed for smuggling £1.5m worth of cocaine to Spain is due to be transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland.

Michaela McCollum (pictured left), who was jailed in December for trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Peru, is due to be transferred to a jail in Northern Ireland.

Ms McCollum, from Dungannon, County Tyrone, was sentenced to serve six years and eight months in a Peruvian jail along with her accomplice Melissa Reid, from Glasgow.

An agreement has been reached in principle to transfer Ms Reid as well, according to the BBC.

The pair admitted to trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million from Peru to Spain.

According to Ms McCollum’s lawyer, the Irish government’s transfer request has been accepted by the Peruvian government, although her move could take months because of the logistics and security arrangements involved – she will need to be accompanied throughout the journey and airports need to be advised of the transfer.

The two women were caught with the drugs stash at Lima airport on in August 2013. They were working in Ibiza last summer when they claimed they were forced at gunpoint by Colombian drug lords to smuggle the cocaine onboard a flight inside food packets hidden in their luggage.

‘Notorious’ jail

Because McCollum is an Irish citizen, officials in Dublin have been lobbying hard for the transfer, while Ms Reid’s lawyers have also made a bid to have her moved to a Scottish jail.

The two women originally faced the prospect of a 15-year prison term but struck a plea-bargain deal for a shorter sentence.

They had initially been held at the Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima but Ms McCollum was moved to the notorious Ancon 2 prison, where she was reportedly crammed in a cell with 30 other prisoners.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland director, said Peru’s prisons are full to overflowing, with almost 50,000 prisoners for fewer than 30,000 prison places.

“With massive overcrowding, poor access to medical care and endemic corruption throughout Peru’s penal system, it is understandable that prisoners from the UK and Ireland, such as Michaella McCollum Connolly, want to return home to complete their sentences,” he added.

After being arrested the pair were held separately in maximum-security holding cells.

A guard in Lima told the Daily Mirror that they had refused to eat or drink, and they were “terrified and emotional”.

Michael Russell, a retired consul general in Lima, told the paper: “The jails are pretty dour and horrible. It’s all a matter of money. You have to buy your space and food.

“If you don’t have money, you suffer quite a lot.”