Mexico Arrests Its 'Most Powerful Woman'

Elba Esther Gordillo accused of embezzling millions from union workers

By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 27, 2013 7:25 AM CST

(Newser) – She's known as Mexico's most powerful woman, and she's currently sitting in prison. Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested on corruption charges last night after landing near Mexico City in a private plane, reports the AP. It's things like private planes that appear to be the problem: The 68-year-old heads the country's 1.5 million-member teachers' union, which the BBC describes as Latin America's most powerful union, and prosecutors accuse her of embezzling more than $150 million from its funds to fund a lavish lifestyle of planes, $17,000 of plastic surgery, and designer clothing.

  • Gordillo allegedly used the funds to pay for two homes near San Diego; $2.1 million was also reportedly transferred to a Neiman Marcus account, reports the New York Times. The transactions are said to have occurred between 2008 and 2012.
  • Some $2 million of union money was allegedly funneled into accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, reports the AFP.
  • The AP notes that she was paid about $72,000 a year, but was known to wear $1,200 shoes and carry a $5,500 purse.
  • The BBC explains that the arrest came just a day after President Enrique Peña Nieto instituted sweeping reforms designed to mend a problematic teaching system, in which positions can be inherited, dead teachers are sometimes paid, and regular assessments aren't conducted. Gordillo was seen as a key obstacle to reform.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto holds up an education reform proposal, taking on Elba Esther Gordillo, an iron-fisted union leader considered the country's most powerful woman.
Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto holds up an education reform proposal, taking on Elba Esther Gordillo, an iron-fisted union leader considered the country's most powerful woman.   (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
This May 12, 2003 file photo shows Elba Esther Gordillo.
This May 12, 2003 file photo shows Elba Esther Gordillo.   (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)
In this Friday July 14, 2006 file photo, teachers' union head Elba Esther Gordillo gestures as she arrives to attend a meeting with education workers.
In this Friday July 14, 2006 file photo, teachers' union head Elba Esther Gordillo gestures as she arrives to attend a meeting with education workers.   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, file)
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