Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of Mexico’s powerful teachers union and an influential political figure, has been arrested for allegedly embezzling funds for personal use, including plastic surgery and shopping sprees, authorities said.
Attorney General Jose Murillo Karam said Gordillo was arrested Tuesday at the airport of Toluca, in the center of the country.
Speaking to reporters, Murillo Karam said the Finance Ministry’s financial analysis unit detected unusual activity that led to the discovery of multiple operations worth 2 billion pesos ($153.8 million) from accounts belonging to the National Union of Education Workers.
Authorities uncovered a complicated network of transfers, with authorities discovering the money went towards plastic surgery, shopping at luxury stores in the United States — including $3 million at one department store alone — as well as the acquisition of property and even artwork.
In addition, $2 million dollars of union money made it into accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Gordillo, 68, has headed the union, which has some 1.4 million members and is among the largest in Latin America, since 1989. Known for her luxurious lifestyle, she was secretary general of the Institutional Revolutionary Party from 2002 to 2005.
With the strength of the union behind her, she went on to form the New Alliance party.
Her arrest, along with three others, comes a day after the enactment of education reform in this country of nearly 112 million where 64 percent of children complete elementary school.