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Mexico`s most powerful woman arrested on corruption charges

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 15:11

Zeenews Bureau

Mexico City: A Mexican woman, who is the head of Mexico`s 1.5 million member teacher`s union, has
been arrested on charges of embezzling large amount of union funds to cater to her own luxurious

The 68-year old Elba Esther Godillo, known as `la maestra` or `the teacher` is said to be Mexico`s most
powerful woman as she has been leading the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE)
for last 20 years.

She is accused to have run a system wherein teaching positions could be sold and inherited.

Her arrest came just a day after President Enrique Pena Nieto signed into law a comprehensive education reform designed to dismantle the system Gordillo managed.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said she had siphoning off 200 million pesos ($ 166 mn) funds from her teachers` union to pay for property, private planes, plastic surgery bills and her Neiman Marcus bill. Prosecutors said they had detected nearly $3 million in purchases at Neiman Marcus using union funds, as well as $17,000 in U.S. 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," 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 neighborhood. 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.

Gordillo hasn`t responded to the allegations after her arrest though her union members were earlier protesting in the streets against the government`s education reforms.

The reform creates a system of uniform standards for teacher hiring and promotion based on merit instead of union connections. It also allows for the first census of Mexico`s education system, which Gordillo`s union has largely controlled for decades, allegedly padding the payroll with thousands of phantom teachers.

Gordillo, who rose from school teacher to a maker of presidents, has denied the allegations earlier and 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.

For years, she has beaten back attacks from union dissidents, political foes and journalists who have seen her as a symbol of Mexico`s corrupt, old-style politics. Rivals have accused her of corruption, misuse of union funds and even a murder, but prosecutors who investigated never brought a charge against her.

She was expelled from Pena Nieto`s Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2006 for supporting other parties` candidates and the formation of her own New Alliance party. Her support was considered key in giving a razor-thin victory to former President Felipe Calderon.

With Agency Inputs

First Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 14:32
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