A convicted criminal from Blackpool is set to be one of the first people in the country to be extradited to Peru to face smuggling charges.
Jamie Cato, 42, from South Shore, was just days from completing a jail sentence for his role in transporting £20,000 of amphetamine into Cumbria when he was arrested and told he was wanted by the Peruvian authorities.
It is alleged he sent a parcel of cocaine out of the South American country while working over there several years ago.
He now faces an extradition hearing in London and, if the request is granted, it could be one of the only times in history a Brit has been sent to the country to face charges.
From 2007 until 2009 he says he had been in Peru showing potential investors around properties in the country but after his return he claims he got into debt with the wrong people.
He told The Gazette he admits his involvement in the Cumbrian drugs operation, which he says was “a mistake”. He was part of a gang caught smuggling large quantities of the class B drug out of Lancashire and was sentenced to 32 months in prison back in 2012.
But Mr Cato insists he has now served his time and he is innocent of allegations he tried to send a parcel of cocaine out of Peru in 2009.
And the harrowing experiences of his brother, who the family is working to bring home after he served time in a Peruvian prison, have made him determined to fight the extradition request.
He told The Gazette: “They’re trying to extradite me for posting drugs in a parcel but I didn’t know they were in there. I am definitely going to fight this. All they have is circumstantial evidence.
“They keep pushing the hearing back and I’m just in limbo. It has been almost a year now.”
He claims his troubles actually started after he got back from Peru.
He added: “I got mixed up with some bad people and ended up in prison.
“I got into debt and ended up being a courier for them.
“I got out of prison last year and I was a week away from getting my tag off when the police came and got me.”
An extradition request against Mr Cato was made at the Court of Appeal in Callao, Peru, on June 9, 2011, when he was in prison in the UK.
He was arrested in June last year and now faces a long wait ahead of a hearing later this summer to decide if he will be handed over to the authorities in South America.
A letter seen by The Gazette, sent to Mr Cato by his solicitor, states: “The request for your extradition has been made by a judge at the Court of Appeal in Callao, Peru, on June 9, 2011, in relation to a single allegation of ‘illegal drug trafficking’.
“The Peruvians want you to be extradited so that you may be prosecuted in relation to this allegation.
“Specifically, it is alleged that you deposited a parcel containing 0.4422kg of cocaine at a post office in downtown Lima on November 24, 2009.”
But Mr Cato maintains he may have been duped into sending a parcel on someone’s behalf.
He added: “I used to send things home by post. One time I went with someone to show them how it worked.
“You need your passport to do it and he didn’t have his but I had mine – I don’t know if I got trapped into it.
“Anyone could go over there, post some souvenirs home and get a knock on the door from the police.
“I don’t think I would survive if I have to go to prison over there.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed Mr Cato was arrested in relation to drug smuggling offences.
A spokesman for the force said: “Jamie Cato, of no fixed address, was arrested on June 4 at an address on Simpson Road, Blackpool, following a request from the Peruvian authorities.
“The arrest relates to alleged drugs offences, namely being concerned in the fraudulent evasion of a prohibition on the exportation of goods, namely cocaine.
“He appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on June 5 and was released on court bail. An extradition hearing has been set for the same venue on August 5-8.”
It is understood Mr Cato’s lawyers - who say his is only third extradition request from Peru in living memory - will argue that sending him to Peru would breach his human rights.
And he highlights the example of his brother Jason, 37, who is on parole in Peru after being released from prison to receive hospital treatment, as an example of the conditions he would face if he were to be extradited.
The family is currently trying to raise money to help bring Jason home following treatment for injuries sustained after he was allegedly thrown over a prison balcony by inmates.
Jason Cato went to Peru in 2009, around the time his brother left, but shortly after was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking.
He served time in Lima’s Lurigancho prison - described as one of the toughest in the world - but was released to serve the remainder of his sentence on parole last year.
Jamie Cato, currently on bail in the UK pending his extradition hearing, said: “Apparently, he was caught in possession of drugs and he was told if he pleaded guilty they would cut the sentence.
“He did four years over there but he’s been out on parole since he broke his knees when he got thrown over the balcony by inmates.
“We are trying to raise the funds to get him home.”
An online appeal has so far raised £145 to help bring Jason home, while a petition on Change.org has attracted 152 signatures.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are aware of a situation involving a British national in Peru. We are providing consular assistance to the individual and his family.”