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Should High-Denomination Paper Currency Be Eliminated To Fight Crime?

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2016 | Drug Trafficking

Chances are good that if you’ve recently watched any film or television show depicting financial, drug-related or other types of criminal activity that there was one at least one scene depicting a briefcase, bag or shoebox filled with high-denomination paper currency changing hands.

While paper currency serves as a time-tested crime prop on stage and in film, the author of a recently published paper argues that it also serves as a time-tested tool for real-life criminal activity, including tax evasion, terrorism, corruption, money laundering and drug trafficking.

In his paper, Peter Sands, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and former head of the Standard Chartered Bank, argues that those engaged in any of the aforementioned crimes have and always will prefer high-denomination paper currency as it leaves no trace and all but guarantees transactional anonymity.

Interestingly, Sands’ solution for disrupting these ‘business models’ isn’t keeping closer track of high-denomination paper currency, but rather eliminating it altogether. Specifically, he calls for the elimination of everything from the 50-pound note and the 500 euro note to the 1,000 Swiss franc bill and, of course, the $100 bill.

He argues that this solution, which would be relatively easy to implement, makes good sense given that the majority of people only use cash for small transactions, and that it has long been displaced by credit cards and PayPal as the preferred (and far more transparent) method of payment for larger transactions.

“High denomination notes are arguably an anachronism in a modern economy given the availability and effectiveness of electronic payment alternatives,” he wrote. “They play little role in the functioning of the legitimate economy, yet a crucial role in the underground economy.”

While such a move is certain to be met with criticism, it’s worth noting that just last week, a lead official with the European Central Bank called on law enforcement agencies, which have long pointed to the 500 euro note as a facilitator of criminal activity, to come forward with compelling evidence.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Do you think the elimination of high-denomination paper currency would make any difference?

If you’ve been arrested or charged with any sort of drug-related offense — from trafficking to possession — please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.