Mexican union boss arrest sounds warning to reform foes

Wed Feb 27, 2013 4:47pm EST
 
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By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The arrest of Mexico's best-known trade union leader on fraud charges has thrown down the gauntlet to powerful interests standing between President Enrique Pena Nieto and his plans to shake up Latin America's second-biggest economy.

For a generation, even presidents shied away from taking on teachers' union boss Elba Esther Gordillo, making her Mexico's most prominent female politician and a formidable enemy to those who accused her of fostering corruption rather than education.

Pena Nieto, who has been in office for less than three months, crossed that line on Tuesday when police arrested Gordillo and three other people with her at Toluca airport near Mexico City.

Mexican television showed Gordillo, 68, wearing a prison uniform and standing behind bars as a state prosecutor formally charged her with embezzling around $200 million from union coffers and using the money to pay for U.S. property, luxury goods, designer clothes, works of art and plastic surgery.

She is not allowed to apply for bail under the charges.

Gordillo, who deferred comment to her lawyers, faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years, though prisoners can apply to be moved to house arrest at age 70.

"It is clearly a criminal case," Attorney General Jesus Murillo said in a television interview. "The case is very solid."

A former grandee of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, Gordillo has denied accusations of corruption.   Continued...

 
Elba Esther Gordillo, leader of Mexico's teacher's union, is seen on a television screen during the closed-circuit broadcast of her judicial hearing inside a court in Mexico City February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido