MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The Mexican Congress has passed a bill to more severely punish those who flee house arrest, commit credit card fraud, join criminal bands or exploit minors.

The bill, submitted a year ago by President Ernesto Zedillo and approved in a unanimous vote Wednesday, is aimed at toughening conditions on bail and constitutional appeals that have often allowed criminals to escape justice in the past.

The changes in the criminal code _ which must still be approved by Zedillo _ would prohibit release on bail for suspects charged with exploiting a minor, aggravated or highway robbery, kidnapping and money-laundering.

Fleeing house arrest _ as a well-known Mexican banker did earlier this year, without suffering any punishment _ would be sanctioned with a prison sentence of six months to two years, plus fines.

Those filing a constitutional appeal _ which in Mexico can block a person from being arrested or put on trial _ may be asked to post a bond guaranteeing their intention not to flee justice.

Credit card fraud and the acquisition of certain chemicals to make controlled substances are also classified as serious crimes for the first time under the bill, as is joining with at least two other persons to commit criminal acts.