In Geneva, ‘Dirty Money’ of Another Kind — Flushed Down the Toilet

“The only thing you have to check is if it’s of legal provenance or not,” he said, adding that investigators had yet to find evidence of links to criminality.

According to investigators, the money was found in four locations in May and June: in a toilet at the Rue de Corraterie branch of the Swiss bank UBS, and in the bathrooms of three restaurants on Place du Molard, a square in the heart of the city’s historic center.


At the Café du Centre, a seafood restaurant on Place du Molard in Geneva, cleaners found €500 notes in the toilet and in a trash can.

Gaëtan Bally/Keystone, via Associated Press

The area is filled with restaurants and bistros, traditional chocolate shops and international clothing stores. Around the corner is one of the city’s most famous attractions, the Horloge Fleurie, a giant clock made of colorful flowers.

At the Café du Centre, a restaurant on Place du Molard, cleaners found several €500 notes in the toilet and in a trash can, according to Blaise Gumi, the restaurant manager. Mr. Gumi said that several thousand euros had been found, but that he did not know the precise amount. He declined to comment further.

Though Switzerland has its own currency — the franc — many businesses, shops and restaurants accept euros (usually returning change in francs). Finding wads of cash in toilets is not a common occurrence, however, and the story drew attention in the national news media.

UBS, whose Rue de Corraterie branch is a short walk away, on the edge of a quiet area known as the “Quartier des Banques,” or neighborhood of banks, declined to comment.

The Geneva police said the investigation was focused on damage to the toilets of the restaurants where the money had been found. The prosecutor’s office said a lawyer for the two Spanish suspects had paid for damage to the restaurants’ plumbing, but added it could not provide further information because it was a private arrangement.

The lawyer could not immediately be contacted, and the restaurants declined to comment on the damage.

The disposal of the large sum of cash came around a year after the European Central Bank said it would phase out the €500 in a bid to curb money laundering and combat financing of terrorist acts. The bill will no longer be printed and, from the end of 2018, central banks in the 19 nations of the eurozone will no longer replace €500 notes that are returned.

The note is an unusually large denomination, worth nearly $600. By comparison, the highest-value American bill now in circulation is the $100. Though Switzerland has a 1,000-franc note, worth about $1,040, supply is limited. According to both European and United States officials, the relatively easy availability of the €500, combined with its high value, has led to it playing a major role for drug cartels, as well as in other illegal transactions like money laundering and terrorism financing.

A Harvard University study last year found that the equivalent of $1 million in €500 notes weighs about five pounds and fits in a small bag, whereas the sum in $100 bills weighs more than four times as much.

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