Philippine Congress approves expanded law against money-laundering

MANILA, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Philippine lawmakers have approved amendments that expanded the coverage of a law on illegal movement of money as the country sought to escape sanctions from an international watchdog.

A bicameral Congress committee gave its approval late on Wednesday to the measure strengthening the Anti-Money Laundering Act, ahead of a Feb. 18 meeting of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

"On February, 18 we will know whether what we have passed is enough for us to get out of the dark grey list upwards or go down to the blacklist," Senator Teofisto Guingona was quoted as saying by the Philippine Daily Inquirer's news website.

Inclusion on the FATF blacklist would undermine the Philippines' ability to attract foreign investment and make it difficult for Filipinos abroad to send money home and for local banks to transact business overseas.

The Philippines is among countries that need to address "deficiencies" in the fight against money laundering, according to the FATF.

The expanded law covers not just banks, but also foreign exchange dealers, money changers, pawnshops and precious metals and jewellery dealers, among others. These sectors are required to report to the Anti-Money Laundering Council all financial transactions in excess of 500,000 pesos ($12,300).

But the committee, which merged the two versions of the measure passed separately by the lower and upper chambers of Congress, dropped the proposed inclusion of casinos. Guingona said there was no more time to discuss the issue.

The measure was one of the last bills to be approved before Congress closes to start a three-month campaign period ahead of a congressional election in May.

"We have produced enough compliance with the requirements of the FATF," Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told reporters, adding the amended version of the law could still be revised further if the FATF sought stricter provisions. (Reporting by Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Ron Popeski)