Mexican President Felipe Calderon signed into law Tuesday a new statute dealing with money laundering designed to halt the flow of the $12 billion-$13 billion that, according to legislative estimates, are moved in the country illegally every year.

The new law "adopts the most advanced international criteria in the world of money laundering," Calderon said, vowing that these efforts would be maintained.

In a ceremony at the presidential residence, Calderon, who leaves office in December, said it was "essential to fight organized crime, particularly crime that is organized multinationally, in the very heart of its activities - in the flow of money that gives it the power to corrupt authorities, to intimidate citizens and to expand its illicit activities."

The federal law for the prevention and identification of operations with funds from illicit sources will enable this to be done through several new mechanisms, including a special unit to fight money laundering that will be part of the Deputy Attorney General's Office of Specialized Organized Crime Investigations, or Siedo, an agency of the federal Attorney General's Office, he said.

The law also establishes a limit on cash transactions and those linked to gambling, contests and lotteries, as well as the issuing of, or trading in, non-bank credit cards and travelers checks.

The law also bans cash transactions in certain real estate operations with a value higher than 1 million Mexican pesos (about $77,519) or in the buying and selling of vehicles worth more than 200,000 pesos ($15,504).

In the case of jewelry, precious metals, watches, gemstones and works of art, cash payments are restricted to prices below 300,000 pesos (about $23,256).

Calderon said that during his term in office, Mexico "has waged an unprecedented war in favor of legality, justice and freedoms" of which these regulations are a part.

"The government has acted strongly because that is its duty. It has acted outside of all political considerations or any short-term interests," he said.

He said that when he became president in December 2006, there was a "systemic deterioration" that has been reversed as institutions have been transformed.

For his part, Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Meade said that with the new law against money laundering, Mexico will "improve its international rating with the Financial Action Task Force."

The law comes a few months after a report by the U.S. Senate said that in 2007 and 2008 the Mexican affiliate of the HSBC group introduced $7 billion dollars in cash into the financial system of that country without considering the source or characteristics of the transactions.

In Mexico, authorities fined HSBC 379 million pesos ($27.6 million) for reporting too late almost 2,000 unusual operations and omitting another 39, presumably related to money laundering, and for administrative failures detected between 2007 and 2008. EFE