An Irish woman, whose family reported her missing last week, could face up to 25-years in prison, if convicted of drug trafficking in Peru.
Michaella McCollum-Connolly, 20, from Belfast was reported missing by her family after she disappeared from Ibiza. However it emerged over the weekend she had been arrested in Lima last Tuesday along with Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland, while trying to board a flight to Madrid at Lima's Jorge Chavez international airport.
Police in Peru claim they’d discovered 5.5kg of cocaine hidden concealed in food in the women’s luggage when they were stopped at the Air Europa counter. The class A drugs are estimated to be worth some $2.26 million.
McCollum-Connolly, a photography student, had been at the centre of a social media appeal, backed by Irish sports stars, desperately seeking information about her whereabouts over the past two weeks.
The 20-year-old left Belfast in June and travelled to Ibiza where she was working as a nightclub hostess.
In Peru, the women could be held in custody for up to 15 days without charge.
Michael Russell, former Irish Consul General in Lima, told the Irish Examiner the Peruvian authorities view drug trafficking as “a very serious issue”.
“The prisons there are pretty dour and horrible,” Russell said.
"It's all a matter of money, quite frankly.
"You have to buy your space, you have to buy your food. If you don't have money you suffer quite a lot."
The young woman’s family are in shock over her arrest.
Speaking at the family home in Dungannon, Samantha McCollum told the Irish Independent the family were still trying to "get our heads around" the news.
"She's the baby, I'm her older sister," she said.
"This is a normal family – this is not a normal situation. Right now, we don't know (what's happening) – it's all in the air."
"We're just trying to not think of the media right now because some stuff is quite upsetting for mummy and there's been some pictures in the paper which are very distressing," she added.