In Brief

Money mules swallowing wads of cash for Colombian drug gangs

Police arrest 27 people from criminal networks smuggling dirty money from Mexico

030317-wd-cocaine.jpg

A massive drugs bust in Colombia has exposed an international smuggling scam in which poor and unemployed young people are paid to swallow capsules of so-called dirty money.

Colombian authorities, working with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, arrested 27 people from across four smuggling networks, reports Reuters. The suspects, detained at El Dorado airport in capital Bogata on Thursday, are accused of ingesting cash in order to sneak it into the South American nation from Mexico. 

Officials say the cash mules typically swallow between 80 to 120 latex-wrapped capsules, each containing five $100 (£78) bills - payments from Mexican cocaine gangs to their Colombian suppliers. After arrived in Colombia, the mules are taken to a hotel and held there until they expel all of the capsules. 

“With each ingestion they could bring in up to $40,000 [£31,300], there’s even a case where they brought in $75,000 [£58,750] in one traveller,” General Jorge Hernando Nieto, head of Colombia’s national police, told reporters. “The confiscated money in this investigation reaches $11m [£8.6m].”

The mules are paid about $1,500 (£1,175) for each trip. Nieto said one of those arrested had travelled between Colombia and Mexico around 250 times since 2015.

In September, data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that cocaine production in Colombia reached record highs last year. Total production jumped from the previous record of 1,053 metric tons in 2016 to 1,379 in 2017, reports specialist new site InSight Crime.

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