Two British women formally charged with smuggling cocaine


Melissa Reid (C), a British woman arrested on August 6, 2013 at Lima's airport carrying cocaine in her luggage is escorted out of the Callao prosecutors building on August 20, 2013, to be taken to the district court with her companion Michaella McCollum, 20, (background)..



Two young British women accused of smuggling cocaine with an estimated street value of  £1.5 million out of Peru have been formally charged in Lima, and could face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. 

Michaella McCollum of Northern Ireland and Melissa Reid of Glasgow were caught in Lima with 24 pounds of cocaine hidden inside food packages as they attempted to board a flight to Madrid, writes the Independent. 

Read more from GlobalPost: Peru backs the US in the war on drugs 

The two 20-year-olds have been detained in custody for two weeks, and maintain their innocence, claiming that they were recruited by force as drug mules while they worked at an Ibiza bar. 

Spanish and Peruvian authorities have expressed their doubt about the women's claims that they were forced into trafficking drugs. 

“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," said First Sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, according to the Independent. 

“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. 

"Neither of the women speak any Spanish and the convoluted legal system in Peru is often complex for those well versed in the law," said BBC correspondent Will Grant to the news organization. 

"However, at least in the short term, it is a situation they are going to have to adapt to as the Peruvian authorities are likely to take several months before the trial reaches court," he added. 

McCollum lawyer Peter Madden claimed the young women were being held under harsh conditions to the Irish Times. “The conditions inside the holding cells are pretty grim. They are expected to lie almost on the floor," he said.

"There is a sort of sponge bed which is not acceptable, it is not clean... They have not been offered any food. To me that is unacceptable.”

The two women will likely be transferred to a Peruvian prison as they await their trial, writes the Irish Times, and are unlikely to get bail — meaning they may have to wait for months or years for a court hearing.