Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 08:31 GMT
Crime without frontiers
Euro cops will pool information on criminals
The launch of the euro opens up a world of opportunities - not only for companies and consumers, but for criminals as well.
The euro is the currency of an area with more people, a bigger economy and a larger share of world trade than the United States.
It has every chance of becoming a leading world currency, to stand alongside the dollar.
But it is also in danger of becoming crime's top currency.
Paradise for dirty money
Money laundering is one of the biggest potential threats posed by the euro.
Jeffrey Robinson, the author of The Laundrymen, a book on international money laundering, believes criminals will be rubbing their hands with glee.
He said: "A borderless Europe with a single currency is a drug trafficker's and a money launderer's dream.
"The cops I have spoken to about this basically shake their heads in despair."
One problem is the high value of the euro notes. Germany wanted to keep high denominations, as the country is used to handle bank notes worth 500 and even 1,000 Deutschmarks ($300 and $600 respectively).
"For a start, the eurozone countries should not have agreed to produce a 500 euro note", said Jeffrey Robinson. 500 euros are worth about $590.
"It just makes it easier for drug barons and money launderers to move around.
"One million pounds would fill up several attache cases but you could easily cram one million pounds worth of euros into one."
Mr Robinson also believes that the euro will make it easier to hide dirty money.
He said: "At the moment if you are selling Moroccan hashish in Spain - you will be paid in pesetas.
"You'll want to get rid of that currency pretty quick to distance yourself from the drugs, by maybe changing it into Deutschmarks before changing it into dollars."
When such large amounts of cash turn up at banks, the policy could begin asking questions
"But once the euro is introduced you'll have a currency that could have come from any European country. It just makes it easier for the criminal."
The prospect of another type of euro-related crime hit the headlines recently when a security hologram for the new euro banknotes was lost on an Air France flight from Paris to Munich.
The hologram was en route to a high security printing plant in Bavaria, where it was due to be tested.
But it has drawn public attention to the whole security issue in general.
Counterfeiters could cash in on the fact that Europeans may not be accustomed to recognising the new banknotes' security features.
People may not only be fooled into accepting forgeries but may also reject genuine notes as fakes.
But who exactly is responsible for tackling this new type of euro crime?
The European Union's cross-border police force, Europol, started operating officially on 1 October 1998.
It has ambitious plans to target illegal drug trading, the sex trade, money laundering and terrorism across the 15 EU member states and has been described as Europe's answer to the FBI.
But the Austrian Interior Minister Karl Schlogl has rejected such comparisons.
"This is a long way from a European FBI," he said.
"We're not talking about Austrian or French police being active on Spanish soil."
Europol's focus will be the fight against organised crime, and wants to form close ties with Central and Eastern European nations, where crime has soared since the collapse of Communism.
Unlike Interpol, its officers will not gather evidence against suspects on behalf of other forces, but instead pool the intelligence needed to direct inquiries.
"Just as top-level criminals operate across borders, so law enforcement must be capable of co-operating across borders," said John Abbott, head of the National Criminal Intelligence Service which will represent the UK in Europol.
Maybe the euro will have the same fate as currently the US dollar: It will be not only the world's currency of choice, but the underworld's as well.