Mexico's Senate passed a long-awaited bill to address money laundering, which is estimated to be a $12 billion a year business.

The measure has been sent to President Felipe Calderon's desk for his signature.

The bill, debated for more than two years with input from Mexican and international experts in the field, is aimed at weakening the financial structures of drug-trafficking and organized crime syndicates and bringing Mexican law into line with global standards.

It commits Mexico to work with the international community to curb money laundering and strengthens the government's tools for combating this crime, the chair of the Senate governance committee, Cristina Diaz, said after the vote.

The main purpose of this legislation is to detect the approximately $40 billion in annual proceeds from organized crime activities, Sen. Alejandro Encinas said.

He said the bill creates a special unit within the organized-crime division of the Attorney General's Office to combat money laundering.

Initially proposed by Calderon, the legislation sets a limit on cash transactions and big gambling bets and on the issuance or sale of non-bank service or credit cards and travelers checks.

It also imposes controls on real-estate construction and development services and the sale of jewelry, artwork, boats and planes.

It prohibits the use of cash for real-estate transactions of more than 1 million pesos ($77,519) and vehicle purchases that exceed 200,000 pesos ($15,504).

In the case of jewelry, precious metals, watches, precious stones and artwork, cash payments will not be allowed for purchases totaling more than 300,000 pesos ($23,256).

The new law requires financial institutions - such as the stock market, the Mexican pension savings system, investment firms, savings cooperatives and insurers - to report suspicious activity to the finance ministry.

In a message on Twitter, Calderon hailed the bill as "great news" and crucial to slashing funding for organized crime gangs in Mexico, where turf battles among the well-funded mobs and their clashes with security forces have left some 60,000 dead since the president took office in December 2006 for a six-year term. EFE