The story this week that a convent in Zaragoza had been the victim of the theft of €1.5 million has provoked a certain amount of hilarity but also some intense speculation about how the sisters could have accumulated such a large amount of money. According to reports, the police are as interested in the origin of the money as they are in who might have stolen it. The latter issue is of course very difficult, the suspicion is that it has been an inside job and with so many people wearing almost identical clothing there doesn't seem much point in organising an identity parade.
The stolen money was said to have been stored in a cupboard, and allegedly consisted of a significant number of those elusive €500 notes which we hear so much about. The convent has given a somewhat confusing version about the origins of so much money, we're no longer sure whether it came from "savings", or the income from a talented artist in the community. However, after a couple of days the convent has now reassessed the amount of money stolen to bring it below the €500,000 mark.
The emergence of such a widely publicised story involving money of questionable origin almost coincided with a report from the national foundation of Spain's remaining savings banks about the size of the submerged economy in Spain. Their report put it at a possibly conservative 17% of economic activity in the country, especially taking into account the influence of the crisis on these things. Even so, it is a figure still way above the average in Western Europe, and the same report estimates that around 4 million people are involved in some way in undeclared economic activities.
Despite the collapse of the construction bubble, Spain still continues to be the home of an unhealthy percentage of high denomination Euro banknotes. There have been frequent calls made for something to be done to force this money out into the open. Spain's budget problems are much more a consequence of uncollected revenue than of some imagined reckless overspending by the government. Ideas on what to do range from proposing the abolition of the €500 note to a change in its colour; although something similar would probably need to be done with the €200 version as increased pressure on operations involving €500 notes has led to something of a shift. Perhaps a search of religious institutions might also help?