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It may not be a crime to literally flush money down the toilet, but it can cause a lot of trouble.
Police in Geneva, Switzerland, discovered about 100,000 euros, the equivalent of about $120,000, cut into pieces and clogging toilets in different locations across the city, one of the world’s preeminent banking hubs.
Two Spanish citizens are allegedly responsible for the handiwork, cutting up 500-euro bills with scissors and attempting to dispose of them this summer in toilets in a branch of the Swiss bank UBS, and in the bathrooms of three restaurants in Geneva’s historic center, according to the New York Times.
Though Geneva police are investigating the bizarre incident to assess damage to the toilets, they said no criminal charges can be brought unless it’s proven the money was obtained illegally or exchanged in criminal activity. The Spanish suspects reportedly paid the restaurants an undisclosed amount to cover the plumbing damages, according to their lawyer.
“The fact that you put the money into toilets is weird, but not criminal,” Vincent Derouand, a spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, told the Times.
Over a year ago, the European Central Bank announced it would cease printing the 500-euro bank note, which is worth about $600, to restrict money laundering and other high stakes criminal activity.
Other countries have recently done away with extremely high value notes. Canada eliminated its $1,000 note in 2000, and Singapore stopped using its $10,000 note in 2014. Switzerland still has a 1,000-franc note, but supply is limited. The highest-value American bill currently in circulation is the $100.
The 500-euro note is easy to transfer and conceal. The equivalent of $1 million in 500-euro notes weighs about five pounds and fits into a small bag, while the same amount in $100 bills weighs 22 pounds.
High denomination notes have long been the preferred currency among drug traffickers, terrorists, and other criminals, according to a paper by Harvard University research fellow Peter Sands, “given the anonymity and lack of transaction record they offer, and the relative ease with which they can be transported and moved.” Currently, less than 1% of the $2 trillion in global crime cash flows is recovered.
“Eliminating high denomination notes has limited downside since such notes play such little role in the legitimate economy,” Sands wrote.