LIMA, Peru (AP) — Prosecutors formally levied drug-trafficking charges on Tuesday against two young women from Scotland and Ireland who were arrested this month trying to depart Peru with 24 pounds of cocaine in their luggage.
The prosecutor's office in Callao, the city abutting Lima where its airport is located, also said in a statement Tuesday night that Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, and Melissa Reid, 19, face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison if convicted.
Their lawyers claim they were coerced into carrying the drugs by criminals who threatened them and their families and had them followed to Peru to ensure they collected the cocaine. A Peruvian police official says both women insisted on their innocence during questioning. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The two young women spent much of Tuesday in medical checks and preprocessing ahead of an expected transfer to prison to await trial. Since their Aug. 6 arrest at Lima's airport as they tried to board a flight for Madrid, the women's plight has received blanket coverage by British tabloids. The reports have featured photos of both young women in swimsuits, and partying in Ibiza.
Small-time smugglers who plead guilty in Peru usually receive six-year prison sentences and, with good behavior, can be out in two years. Peru's penal authority says 1,648 foreigners are currently in its prison on drug-trafficking charges, 31 of them British citizens.