About three weeks ago Singapore announced that it is going to stop issuing its $10,000 notes because of “the risks associated with large value cash transactions and high-value notes”, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore. However, the notes already in circulation will remain legal tender indefinitely. Now, ten thousand Sing dollars is worth about £4,750 – so that’s one stonkingly valuable note. By comparison, the Bank of England issues banknotes into circulation worth £5, £10, £20 and £50. (There is a “giant” banknote worth £1,000,000, and a “titan” worth £100,000,000, but you won’t find them in a cashpoint – they’re used to back banknotes issued by banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For every Scottish or Irish pound issued, the issuing bank has to deposit the equivalent in sterling at the Bank of England – and the giants and titans are the shorthand for that. I didn’t know that – isn’t it interesting? I feel a financial crime novel coming on…)
Large value banknotes have always been popular with money launderers, because they are efficient: £1,000,000 in £20 notes weighs more than 50kg, while the same value in 500 euro notes weighs only 2kg. And talking of 500 euro notes, in 2010 the Serious Organised Crime Agency estimated that 90% of 500 euro banknotes sold by bureaux de change ended up in the hands of organised criminals. In May of that year, the UK government decided to withdraw the 500 euro note from sale in the UK – you can still sell them to bureaux de change, but you can no longer buy them. We were not the first to regret a high-value note: in May 2000, the Canadians withdrew their $1,000 note – C$1,000 is now worth about £545. Any C$1,000 note paid into a bank is shredded, but they are still legal tender – and nearly a million of them have yet to be turned in and destroyed. According to money laundering expert Jeffrey Robinson: “They are used now to pay off IOUs, not as traditional cash. [Criminals] keep paying with them, over and over, and it’s only the last guy in line who has to worry about cashing them.” Leaving those existing Singapore $10,000 notes in circulation will no doubt create a similar situation in Asia.
So where will criminals turn now if they want to carry their cash proceeds in a slim briefcase rather than a bulky holdall? There are various commemorative notes issued with large values, such as the 500,000 baht note (worth about £9,190) issued in 2000 to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of King Bhumipol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit – but criminals would not be interested in such memorable notes, which would draw unwanted attention to them. But in general circulation Singapore still has a $1,000 note (worth about £475). Switzerland has a CHF 1,000 note (about £650). And Brunei has a $10,000 note (about £4,650). Of course it does.