LIMA–Two young women from Britain and Ireland pleaded guilty Tuesday to attempting to smuggle 11 kilograms of cocaine out of Peru — an affair that captured international interest after the pair disappeared and then claimed they were kidnapped. Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, of Ireland and Melissa Reid, 19, of Britain, stated that they “knew they were going to transport drugs and that they regret having participated in such an act,” according to a court press release. They gave their guilty pleas in a court in Callao, just outside the Peruvian capital Lima.
Both were arrested on Aug. 6 at the international airport in Lima, when 5.7 kilos (12.5 pounds) of cocaine were found in McCollum’s luggage and 5.8 kilos in Reid’s. They were trying to board a plane for Spain. By cooperating with authorities the women can expect to gain some benefits and will have a significantly shortened trial.
Still, under Peruvian law, the two could receive between eight and 15 years in prison, according to the court. The pair recounted to a judge how they had prepared and transferred the drugs and told him of contacts with whom they had coordinated the transaction. After their arrest, the women told British reporters that they had been kidnapped by a drug cartel, taken to Peru and forced to transport drugs. But the claim was met with widespread skepticism, and Peruvian authorities did not buy the story. The cocaine was found stashed in packages of cereal in the belongings of both McCollum Connolly and Reid. The prosecutor in charge of the investigation said that among the evidence against the pair was a recording of a phone call in which they were told what to do to smuggle the drugs. In an interview with Britain’s Mail newspaper earlier this month, Reid continued to maintain she acted “under duress,” but said she would plead guilty in order to get a reduced sentence. “I am really scared about what I am about to do but I am also relieved that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I’m now coming to terms with the fact I am so far away from my family. This is real.” “After a lot of thought and advice from my lawyer I am going to go in front of the judge and admit I was in possession of the drugs and that I went to Peru to pick up drugs to take to Spain — I am willing to plead guilty to that.” The case had triggered sensational headlines in their homelands, as they had initially been reported missing in Spain in July. A major campaign was launched to find the two young women, until news emerged of their arrest in Peru. Since 2012, 248 foreigners laden with drugs have been arrested at Lima’s international airport. Some 50 foreign women — mostly European — are serving time in a newly built prison in Peru for attempting to transport drugs.