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La Maestra, in her heyday. La Maestra, in her heyday.

Court absolves ex-teachers’ union boss Esther Gordillo of corruption charges

It ruled there were insufficient grounds for the case to proceed

Former teachers’ union boss Elba Esther Gordillo has been released from house arrest after a federal court absolved her of charges of embezzlement and organized crime, her lawyer said early today.

In a statement read by Marco Antonio del Toro, Gordillo said she received notification of her “absolute and immediate freedom” at 11:30pm yesterday.

The court ruled that there weren’t sufficient grounds to proceed in the case filed against her by the federal Attorney General (PGR).

The ex-SNTE union chief, commonly known as “La Maestra” (The Teacher), spent almost five years in custody awaiting trial following her arrest in 2013 on corruption charges.

In December last year, she was granted her longtime wish to serve jail time at her home in Mexico City’s affluent Polanco neighborhood.

In the statement, Gordillo also said that she would hold a news conference on August 20 before which time she would not speak to the media.

“. . . Due to the very long situation of isolation to which I have been subjected, I need a period to privately assimilate the obvious emotions that are derived from such an important personal occurrence,” she wrote.

“Therefore, I have decided to have no contact with any national or foreign media because I consider that this stage, which places me in a new circumstance, should be . . . accepted and lived with family.”

The PGR arrested Gordillo on February 26, 2013 at the airport in Toluca, México state, when she was still at the helm of the National Educational Workers’ Syndicate (SNTE).

It alleged that she embezzled just under 2 billion pesos (US $108 million at today’s exchange rate) in union funds, part of which was funneled through a company in which Gordillo’s now-deceased mother had a majority stake.

La Maestra allegedly spent the money on payments to pilots, the purchase of real estate, reconstructive surgery in the United States, luxury goods and to pay off a credit card debt

She also allegedly deposited funds in bank accounts held in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Gordillo denied the charges and claimed that she was a political prisoner.

In May, del Toro presented evidence to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. to support that claim and to argue that she had been the victim of serious human rights violations perpetrated by the Mexican state because of her opposition to the 2013 education reforms.

Gordillo and the SNTE, which she headed for almost a quarter of a century, had previously been strong supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and delivered the party thousands of teachers’ votes.

However, she was expelled from the PRI in 2006 after switching allegiances to the National Action Party (PAN).

Gordillo founded the New Alliance Party in 2005, which this year was a member of the PRI-led coalition in the July 1 elections.

In response to the news of Gordillo’s freedom, two prospective cabinet members in the incoming government rejected any suggestion that her absolution was related to a supposed alliance she made with president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“The resolutions of courts and the Supreme Court are not political decisions,” said future interior secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero.

The former Supreme Court judge also told broadcaster Radio Fórmula that when del Toro had lodged an appeal in Gordillo’s case, she detected that the accusations against her were “not solid.”

Asked in a television interview whether López Obrador had a bearing on Gordillo’s release, prospective public security secretary Alfonso Durazo said: “I don’t think so, frankly I don’t think so. It’s not our time to act.”

On the same program, the president of the influential Business Coordinating Council (CCE) said that authorities must provide an explanation for the former union leader’s release.

Juan Pablo Castañón charged that it was unacceptable for institutions in Mexico to “change opinion” but not be transparent about their decision-making processes.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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