It’s on its way out, that banknote of choice for the money laundering fraternity: on 4 May 2016 the European Central Bank announced that it will stop issuing the €500 note at the end of 2018, “taking into account concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities”. Of course you remember: I told you about it at the time.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in possession of a €500 note; my European spends are usually far more modest. (My greatest indulgence is stocking up on Ciobar hot chocolate powder in Italian supermercati. It’s like no hot choc you have ever tasted – once you’ve had it, there’s no going back.) But it seems that although the note will remain officially legal tender for the foreseeable, it’s getting harder and harder to use in normal life. An article in the travel bit of the Sunday Times four days ago – prime holiday season – warned holidaymakers not to ‘get stuck with a Bin Laden’, as they are notoriously difficult to offload in shops, restaurants and even hotels. The clue may be in the nickname: the note has long been associated with money laundering and terrorist financing. As the French then-finance minister Machel Sapin said when the ECB withdrawal was announced in 2016, the €500 note is “used more for hiding things than for buying them”. The advice is to refuse to take one at all and to insist on smaller denomination notes. If you do end up with one, the recommendation of the ECB, no less, is to take it to a national central bank in the Eurozone. Banks here in the UK are not keen – HSBC and Barclays are refusing to touch them – and the few foreign exchange bureaux that will take them are charging a premium to do so. My advice? Blow the lot on Ciobar: you’ll get about 850 sachets of chocolatey loveliness for just one Bin Laden.