Saturday 2 March 2013

Mexico gets a hand from U.S. authorities in Gordillo investigation

23 Green Turtle, complete with Hummer
The U.S. government is working with Mexico’s federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) in the investigation against Elba Esther Gordillo, 68, the former head of that country’s national teacher’s union who allegedly defrauded millions of dollars from the organization.

As part of this cooperation, the PGR is in the process of having U.S. authorities physically secure two of Gordillo’s properties in the upscale Coronado area of San Diego, California. This is because the financial resources required to purchase the properties’ furnishings and household effects is believed to have come from funds diverted from the union. In one startling example, Gordillo allegedly spent about $2 million at a Neiman Marcus store in San Diego.

Gordillo, who may have diverged and laundered up to 2 billion pesos ($156 million), is alleged to have committed the large scale – and long-term – fraud with the help of union financial managers Nora Guadalupe Ugarte Ramírez, Isaías Gallardo Chávez, and José Manuel Díaz Flores.

The investigation is now looking into Gordillo’s financial dealings in United States, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Specifically, it is alleged that for some of her dealings she used a shell company named TTS de México, which was 99% controlled her late mother, Estela Morales Ochoa, in order to transfer over $2 million to accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The houses in Coronado at 1 Green Turtle and 23 Green Turtle were also owned by TTS de México, with one of them allegedly valued at $1.7 million.

There is also a full-scale investigation into Gordillo’s property holdings in Mexico, though officials believe that, from a legal standpoint, the San Diego houses are an essential and convincing building block in the case against her. That said, the legal process on the U.S. side is still expected to take several months.

Over her 23 year tenure as head of the union, Gordillo was a skilled political operator. First a member of the long-ruling PRI, she jumped shipped in 2006 when the PAN came to power, even forming her own political party. Then she attempted to sail back into the arms of the PRI when Enrique Peña Nieto returned the party to power in last year’s election.

But it was too late this time. She was simply too powerful, and too corrupt – when arrested with other union officials she was flying into Toluca, west of Mexico City, in her private jet – to be allowed to challenge presidential authority, particularly in the context of Peña Nieto’s attempt at educational reform.

And the public had had enough: stories of her corrupt practices were notorious for years, including the 59 Hummers that she gave union officials back in 1999. Exposed by the press, she had to pull back from that one, but excessive corruption is like a drug: it’s a hard habit to kick, and one dose just leaves you wanting more.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

On the Gordillo story see also:

And for recent corruption stories in Mexico please see:

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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