PARIS • The euro zone is moving to stop the printing of €500 (S$781) banknotes, the violet-coloured bills that the authorities fear are favoured by criminals, with most of the 19 nations in the currency bloc to halt issuing them next month.
The European Central Bank said on its website: "As of Jan 27, 2019, 17 of the 19 national central banks in the euro area will no longer issue €500 banknotes."
However, Austria and Germany will both continue printing these banknotes until April 26 "in order to ensure a smooth transition and for logistical reasons", the ECB said.
The €500 notes in circulation remain legal tender and can be used to make payments.
The ECB announced in May 2016 it would halt issuing new €500 notes, saying then that it expected to do so around the end of 2018, due to "concerns that this banknote could facilitate illicit activities".
The largest-denomination banknote in the single currency area is one of the world's most valuable bills, alongside the 1,000 Swiss franc (S$1,386) note.
Because of its high value and portability, experts believe the €500 note had become prized by criminals for money laundering and even terrorist financing, earning the nickname "Bin Laden" in some circles.
According to ECB statistics, €500 bills account for just 2.4 per cent of the total number of banknotes in circulation, but a little over 20 per cent of the total value. At the end of November, there were 521 million of the notes in circulation.
The €500 banknotes were actually last printed in 2014, with demand satisfied since from stocks.