Mexico teachers' union boss charged over embezzlement
AFPMEXICO CITY -- The head of Mexico's teachers' union and one of the country's most powerful women has been charged with embezzling up to US$200 million to fund a lavish lifestyle of shopping sprees and plastic surgery, officials said.
March 1, 2013, 1:26 pm TWN
Elba Esther Gordillo, who wielded enormous political clout and was entrusted with union funds, was arraigned Wednesday after being arrested a day earlier at the Toluca airport some 60 kilometers (about 35 miles) west of the Mexican capital.
Gordillo, dressed in a white turtleneck blouse, looked down and occasionally shrugged as she heard the charges against her, speaking in monosyllables and referring questions to her lawyers.
At the defense's request, the judge will have six days — the maximum allowed — to examine the evidence and determine whether to proceed with a trial.
Attorney General Jose Murillo Karam told reporters that Gordillo was arrested after the Finance Ministry detected unusual transactions in union bank accounts.
An audit found withdrawals of some 2 billion pesos (about US$154 million) from two accounts belonging to the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE), as well as multimillion peso purchases on a credit card in her name.
Education workers across Mexico are reported to pay about US$10 million per month in union dues, and Gordillo had de facto control over the assignment of teaching positions across Mexico.
Authorities discovered that a great deal of the embezzled money went towards plastic surgery, the acquisition of real estate and artworks, and shopping at luxury stores in the United States — including one US$3 million spending spree at a U.S. department store.
Gordillo's acquisitions are said to also include two homes in San Diego, California, just north of the Mexican border. Two million dollars of union funds, meanwhile, were transferred into bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.