Women held in Peru 'were threatened' by 14-strong drugs gang: lawyer

Monday 19 August 2013 13.02
Lawyer Peter Madden speaks to reporters in Lima after visiting Michaella McCollum
Lawyer Peter Madden speaks to reporters in Lima after visiting Michaella McCollum

The lawyer for Irish woman Michaella McCollum held in Peru has said she was threatened by a gang of up to 14 men.

Peter Madden of Madden & Finucane solicitors in Belfast said the 20-year-old was forced by the armed men to obtain and carry drugs.

The human rights lawyer told reporters in the capital Lima that 20-year-old Melissa Reid - the Scottish woman detained with her - was similarly threatened by a gang of men.

The two were arrested at Lima's Jorge Chavez Airport earlier this month.

Over 10kg of cocaine worth €1.7m was allegedly found in their luggage concealed in food products as they were about to board a plane for Spain. 

An appeal on Facebook had been launched for the Tyrone woman by her family after she had not been heard from for over a week from Ibiza where she had moved to work.

Defence lawyer Mr Madden declared the women's innocence, telling media the two were coerced at gunpoint to be carry items in their luggage which were later found to contain drugs.

He said his client Ms McCollum was taken to Peru under duress and threatened into becoming a drug mule.

"She was in fact kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced by threat to...obtain and carry drugs back to Lima. 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 and once that questioning process is over the result of the questions, the questions and answers, go to the judge.

"There's a presiding judge who then decides whether there's a prima facie and that will probably be next week, possibly Tuesday or Wednesday. So Michaella is denying any wrongdoing," he said.

Mr Madden said the suspects are being questioned separately by Peruvian authorities.

"Melissa has already been, she's in the process of being questioned during this questioning procedure, that should be about wrapping up now. Then Michaella will be questioned in the same process," he added.

Peruvian officials claim the two women were en route to Madrid and Majorca on Tuesday 6 August when airport officials discovered cocaine hidden inside food packages in their luggage.

Although the two women face hefty prison sentences if found guilty, Mr Madden expressed hope for them. 

"I think there is hope, but it depends very much on the prosecuting authorities here as to whether or not they want to do this in a fair way because the process here seems to be that once you're charged there is no bail and she'll have to go to trial," said Mr Madden.