herald

Friday 30 September 2016

Inside drug mule Michaella's bolthole where 1916 proclamation hangs on wall

These pictures show the inside of the homely apartment where drug mule Michaella McCollum will live during her parole in Peru.

The fifth-floor apartment in Lima is home to Irish-American Archbishop Sean Walsh and his wife.

The Catholic priest has been assisting the drug smuggler since she was in prison and has stepped up to help her meet the terms of her parole.

"It was an easy decision to offer my place and the job to her," he said.

"I knew she needed to have a formal offer of employment which I made, and an address to live at, which I was also able to give her."

As part of her parole conditions, the Tyrone woman will need to work during her four years in the south American country, where she was convicted in 2013 for attempting to smuggle €1.8m worth of cocaine into Europe.

She will now work as a lay missionary alongside the priest both in an office in the apartment and in the Eastern Lima Catholic Church.

Her new home is based in the trendy Milaflores district in the city and is within walking distance of a number of amenities which she will be able to enjoy after more than two years behind bars.

A mounted reprint of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read by 1916 rebels at the GPO, is mounted on a sitting room wall in the apartment.

Comfortable

During her imprisonment, McCollum was forced to share a cell with 30 criminals, but in her new flat she will have her own room and access to her own bathroom.

"While it's not a very big apartment, we do have a lot of room and will be able to offer Michaella her own space and a comfortable place to live," Archbishop Walsh told the Sunday Life newspaper.

"We are looking forward to working with her and having her stay with us at home."

The bishop, who has grown-up children, said that he is looking forward to working alongside the drug mule, who he says has turned her life around.

"She's a precious lady - she can be my granddaughter. My wife and I are treating her like one of the family," he said.

McCollum is already enjoying her freedom and has been snapped taking selfies in a coffee shop which she visited with her mum over the weekend.

The conditions of her newly granted parole dictate that the 23-year-old must stay in the country for the remainder of her six-year and eight-month sentence - of which she has served less than half in prison.

However, it is understood that she is keen to secure permission to return to Ireland before then.

"They [her family] are just so happy to be able to spend some time together after almost three years apart," Archbishop Walsh said.

"Her mum just wants her back home in Ireland now - she doesn't want to have to say goodbye to her daughter again," he added.

McCollum's partner in crime, Scottish woman Melissa Reid, remains locked up in Peru for her part in the smuggling operation.

McCollum told RTE last week that it was a "moment of madness" that led to her involvement with international drug dealers, who offered her cash to transport the drugs back to Europe.

McCollum was living and working in Ibiza when she was approached by drug dealers.

The Herald previously revealed that before her arrest the former model was caught on CCTV visiting the apartment of a notorious drug dealer, nicknamed 'Uncle Charlie'.

She visited him at his home in the same district as her new apartment.

A top Peruvian official revealed that the kingpin was well-known in the country for his criminal activities.

The pictures of her visiting the dealer, to collect the cocaine for which she was charged with smuggling, led to McCollum identifying the gangster to authorities which may mean she is in danger, although this is deemed "unlikely".

"He [Uncle Charlie] is very, very famous in Peru, without a doubt. He is well known on the drug scene," the source said.

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