Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Teacher union head 'stole millions'

Elba Esther Gordillo, former leader of Mexico's teaching union, is accused of embezzling about 100 million pounds from the organisation (AP)

A Mexican teachers' leader has been accused of embezzling tens of millions from her union to pay for property, private planes, plastic surgery and other luxuries.

Elba Esther Gordillo, 68, head of the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers, was arrested as she landed at Toluca airport near Mexico City on a private flight from San Diego.

On arrival in Mexico's capital, she asked to see a doctor then was taken in a caravan of Federal Police and Marine vehicles to Santa Martha Acatitla prison.

The fall of one of the country's most talked about and divisive characters - unthinkable just months ago - comes with the return to power of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which previously ruled for 71 years and once helped Gordillo consolidate her power. She was arrested one day after president Enrique Pena Nieto signed into law a comprehensive education reform designed to dismantle a system she controlled.

Union members had been marching in the streets against the reform in recent weeks, and the fiery Gordillo, who rose from teacher to a maker of presidents, vowed to keep fighting.

"I want to die with the epitaph: Here lies a warrior. She died like a warrior," Gordillo said in a speech on her 68th birthday earlier this month.

She has not spoken or appeared publicly since her arrest.

In a press conference minutes after her detention, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said Gordillo is accused of embezzling 2 billion pesos (about £100 million) from union funds. Prosecutors said they had detected nearly 3 million dollars in purchases at Neiman Marcus luxury stores using union funds, as well as plastic surgery bills and the purchase of a million-dollar home in San Diego.

"We are looking at a case in which the funds of education workers have been illegally misused, for the benefit of several people, among them Elba Esther Gordillo," Mr Murillo said.

Gordillo displayed her opulence openly with designer clothes and bags, bodyguards, expensive cars and properties including a penthouse apartment in Mexico City's exclusive Polanco neighbourhood. She has been widely lampooned for her many plastic surgeries and depicted in political cartoons as ghoulish. Meanwhile, Mexico's teachers are poorly paid and public education has long been considered sub-par.

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