Skip to main content

Mexican union leader accused of embezzling millions

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
February 27, 2013 -- Updated 0356 GMT (1156 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Elba Esther Gordillo is accused of using union funds for plastic surgery, shopping
  • She is in custody in Mexico after being arrested at the airport, the attorney general says
  • Word of the union leader's arrest sends shock waves through Mexico's political spheres
  • Gordillo has led Latin America's largest union since 1989

(CNN) -- Authorities have arrested the leader of Mexico's largest union, accusing her of embezzling millions of dollars and using some of the money to pay for plastic surgery, shop at luxury stores and buy real estate.

Elba Esther Gordillo, who has led Mexico's high-profile national teachers union for more than two decades, was in federal custody after she was arrested at an airport outside Mexico City on Tuesday, the country's attorney general told reporters.

Investigators from Mexico's treasury found that 2.6 billion pesos (more than $200 million) had been routed from union funds into private bank accounts abroad, including some managed by Gordillo, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said.

Some of the money was used to pay for $17,000 in plastic surgery, more than $2 million in purchases at a Neiman Marcus department store and a house in San Diego, California, prosecutors said.

Gordillo, 68, is a powerful, well-known figure in Mexico, and news of her arrest sent shock waves through the country's political spheres.

Her arrest comes as Mexico's government enacts sweeping education reforms that have been sharply criticized by the union. She was notably absent when Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced the education overhaul on Monday.

Gordillo has led the union, the largest in Latin America with 1.5 million members, since 1989. She is widely known as "La Maestra," Spanish for "The Teacher."

A court issued an arrest warrant for her Sunday after "many operations within the financial system," Murillo Karam said.

"It was identified that between 2008 and 2012, resources were diverted from the accounts of education workers, obviously from the union, to accounts of individual people," Murillo Karam said.

The resources "later were withdrawn in large quantities through cashier's checks and transfers triangulated to individuals and corporations" inside Mexico and also in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, he said.

Gordillo was expelled from Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2006 and helped found the New Alliance party.

CNNMexico.com could not immediately reach Gordillo's daughter, a senator for the New Alliance party, and the teacher's union had not responded to Gordillo's arrest late Tuesday.

CNN en Español's Mario Gonzalez and CNNMexico.com contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0823 GMT (1623 HKT)
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT)
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT