Mexican union leader accused of embezzling millions
updated 10:56 PM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
- 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The resources "later were withdrawn in large quantities through cashier's checks and transfers triangulated to individuals and corporations" inside Mexico and also in Switzerland and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.
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:39 PM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
No solutions to the violence and total confusion is no longer just news, but a terrifying daily reality. Has Nigeria descended into civil war?
updated 4:17 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
On the eve of the French Open, attention turns to the illness that has struck down several players. Why is it hitting tennis so hard?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Daycare, hour-long lunch breaks, free medicine? Not all of Bangladesh's factories are sweatshops, but many fear the crisis will hit them hard.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
A group of bright minds at California Institute of Technology invented the 'toilet of the future,' a solar-powered wc that could save lives.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Chinese Premier is meeting India's leaders just weeks after raising the stakes in one of Asia's least understood and longest running disputes.
updated 7:15 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Despite unemployment being close to 12%, Italians are snubbing traditional jobs no longer viewed as attractive -- like pizza-making.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
The woman behind the Chelsea Flower Show talks with CNN about the preparations and the 100th anniversary of the iconic horticultural gathering.
updated 7:38 PM EDT, Sun May 19, 2013
CNN's Dan Rivers reports on the influx of companies into Myanmar after the country opened up to foreign business.
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu May 16, 2013
Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao is using his hero status to fight human trafficking in the Philippines, pushing for an anti-trafficking law.
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
On Wednesday, NASA officials announced a serious problem with the Kepler satellite, the world's most successful planet-finding machine.
updated 9:54 AM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
Anthony Bourdain discovers a American style, fast-food chicken restaurant that opened in Libya after the revolution -- and became a hit instantly.
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
As we mark 140 years since blue jeans were invented, we want to see the best and worst ways you've worn denim through the years.