Mexican authorities arrested Tuesday the country’s most powerful woman, Elba Esther Gordillo, on corruption charges. The arrest of Gordillo, leader of the country’s teachers’ union, came as a blow against one of Mexico’s most reviled, but also most influential, political figures.
According to Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, Gordillo allegedly transferred around $200 million from her 1.5 million-member Mexican teachers' union funds to personal accounts.
Meanwhile, Gordillo’s legal advisers have not responded to the charges but she has personally denied corruption charges in the past. Law enforcers detained the 68-year-old Gordillo when she landed near Mexico City in a private plane from San Diego.
In court documents, Mexican authorities have accused the country’s most powerful woman of transferring some of the money to accounts in Switzerland and spending some of the funds on plastic surgery. Details in the court papers allege that Gordillo spent around $2.1m. of the funds at a store in San Diego.
According to reports, Gordillo owns a $1.6m. residence in La Jolla, a San Diego suburb. Other suspicious spending includes a hangar rental and aircraft repairs in the US.
"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," Attorney General Karam said, according to the BBC.
Gordillo’s arrest comes in the aftermath of major educational reforms in the Mexican education system. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto signed the comprehensive educational reforms aimed to transform a structure dominated by Gordillo, in which teaching positions were allegedly being sold or inherited.
It is pertinent to mention here that Gordillo, who has led the Mexican teachers’ union for more than 20 years, is one of the highest profile figures on Mexico’s political arena, branded as "la maestra" or "the teacher.”
She has held and exercised real power over governments and individual presidents by using her union members to cast their vote as a powerful bloc. The teachers under her authority were also responsible for managing polling stations on Election Day. Reports suggest that Mexico’s teachers’ union is extremely wealthy and runs on annual budget in tens of millions of dollars.