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Peru Drug Smugglers: Two UK Women Found Trying to Sneak 24 Pounds of Cocaine Make Court Appearance

By Maxine Wally | Sep 24, 2013 04:14 PM EDT

Sock bun
Northern Irish citizen Michaella McCollum sports a sock bun as she is being ushered into a police car. (Photo : Reuters)

Two European women who were arrested in August while attempting to smuggle 24 pounds of cocaine onto a plane out of Peru appeared in court on Tuesday.

The UK women, Irish-born Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, from Scotland, went before a judge for questioning, the Associated Press reported. But their lawyer Meyer Fishman wouldn't disclose the nature of the hearing, nor the subject matter discussed. Fishman said he couldn't comment until the end of the trial.

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According to the prosecutor, if McCollum, 20, and Reid, 19, plead guilty, they could receive a jail sentence with a minimum of six years and eight months with no parole options.

The two women were arrested when they were caught trying to board a flight to Madrid from Lima, with 24 pounds of coke hidden in packages of food stowed in their luggage.

At the time, McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden said that both women would plead not guilty to drug trafficking charges. The two UK women maintained that they were forced to move the coke back to the Spanish Island of Ibiza, where they worked at a bar. They insisted that an armed gang recruited them to shuttle the drugs around, and that they came to Peru as hostages.

Peru's national prisons institute told AP that 90 percent of the 1,648 foreigners in the nation's prisons are on trial or awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges. The BBC reported that the two women are just one of many drug mule cases in the country. At the Lima airport, more than 140 other drug trafficking arrests have been made this year so far, and people are always willing to move drugs across borders.

According to Ricardo Soberon, who was Peru's former drugs tsar, much of the drug trade is now operated by sending thousands of drug mules to Europe with the goods sealed up in their bodies and luggage.

"They're expendable and replaceable," Soberon told the BBC. "If they're arrested, there's always someone else on the street, a Peruvian or someone from Spain or Europe ready to be hired to smuggle drugs." 

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