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UK 'drug mules' plead guilty in Peru

25 September 2013, 09:28

Lima - Two young UK women arrested trying to smuggle 24 pounds of cocaine out of Peru in their luggage pleaded guilty on Tuesday to drug trafficking charges and offered details on their co-conspirators, the court said.

Irish-born Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid of Scotland face a minimum of six years and eight months in prison, court spokesperson Gino Villafuerte said.

Judge Pedro Miguel Puente set a court hearing for 1 October at which the two women could be sentenced, he added. Villafuerte also characterised as erroneous reports that the women could serve out their sentences in their home country.

The women entered the plea at a closed hearing in Callao, the city adjacent to Lima where the capital's airport is located and where they were arrested on 6 August.

Their attorney, Meyer Fishman, refused to comment to reporters outside the Sarita Colonia prison where the hearing was held.

A statement issued by the court quoted Reid as telling the judge: "I feel very bad for the pain I have caused my family. I assume complete responsibility." It said McCollum "expressed herself in similar terms".

Prior to entering the plea, the statement said, each of the two women explained how they obtained and hid the drugs, which video of their arrest showed had been hidden in food packets. The two also exposed "the contacts with whom they co-ordinated the transaction".

The prosecutor in the case told The Associated Press last week that if McCollum and Reid chose to contest the charges, they would each face up to 15 years in prison.

They will now have to serve six years and eight months without eligibility for parole as a new law enacted two weeks after the women's arrest eliminated sentence reductions for good behaviour in drug trafficking cases, said the prosecutor, Juan Bautista Mendoza.

He said a sentence reduction would be possible if the women were to co-operate as witnesses against co-conspirators.

A British-based attorney for McCollum, Peter Madden, said after the women's arrest that they were coerced with threats of violence by a gang of up to 15 armed men, some of whom trailed them to Peru from Spain.

Madden did not return phone calls Tuesday from the AP seeking comment.

According to Peru's national prisons institute, 90% of the 1 648 foreigners in the country's prisons are either sentenced or awaiting trial for drug trafficking.

When they were arrested, McCollum was 20 and Reid was 19 and they had been living on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza.

- AP


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