Colombian authorities at Bogota's international airport arrested 27 people who were accused of swallowing large amounts of cash to smuggle the payment into South America from Mexico on Thursday, according to The Guardian.

Even though international drug traffickers have long used people as mules to smuggle their products by swallowing the drugs in plastic wrapping, it's unusual to smuggle paper money in that fashion.

Colombian officials said the money was sent by Mexican drug cartels to pay Colombian gangs for cocaine shipments.

Authorities said the individuals had consumed up to 120 pellets of cash each, which were filled with five $100 bills in a latex capsule.

A typical ingestion would be able to smuggle up to $40,000 per person, though investigators said one case had an individual with $75,000 in their system.

Colombian authorities received assistance from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the operation to target the smuggling ring.

The money mules are often paid $1,500 for their services and would be taken to a hotel while the cartels waited for them to pass the cash.

Officials said cartels usually target the unemployed to help them transport the cash.

The grotesque practice is more commonly known with cocaine smuggling, but that also comes with additional risks since if the capsule tears, the drug mule can die from an overdose.

Some mules are also purposefully sent by the cartels with the intention of getting caught to provide cover for other passengers smuggling larger amounts in different ways, according to Colombian police.

The smuggling ring bust highlighted the ongoing links between Colombian and Mexican gangs.

Cocaine production has increased in Colombia after the historic peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which left a power vacuum that many smaller rebel groups and gangs replaced in the coca farming areas.

Colombia is the world's leading cocaine producer and estimated a record 1,379 tonnes last year, a 31 percent increase from 2016, according to recent United Nations figures.

-WN.com, Maureen Foody

Photo: AP / Fernando Vergara
Anti-narcotics police officers walk in front of a burning cocaine lab in Calamar, Guaviare state, Colombia, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016., added: 2016-08-03
Photo: AP / William Fernando Martinez
Photo: AP / Fernando Vergara
Police officers stand on packages of cocaine in Buenaventura, Colombia's main seaport on the Pacific coast, Monday, March 23, 2009., added: 2009-03-27
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