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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The former head of Mexico's powerful teachers union was transferred early Saturday from custody to house arrest while she fights a years-old legal case involving alleged money laundering, a move that prompted speculation about a possible political deal ahead of next year's elections.
Elba Esther Gordillo was moved before dawn from a medical clinic where she was being held to her penthouse apartment in a tony neighborhood of Mexico City, where a 24-hour guard was to be posted.
Images in local media showed Gordillo, 72, being moved on a stretcher covered by a white sheet. The exact nature of her health status was not immediately clear, but her lawyer has said she suffers from a chronic degenerative condition.
Gordillo was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of embezzling millions of dollars from the union. A money laundering charge is still pending nearly five years later, and she has not been convicted.
Foro TV quoted her attorney Marco Antonio del Toro as saying the legal case against her "does not have the slightest basis" and her innocence will be established "in time."
In recent days, the federal Attorney General's Office dropped its appeal of a court order granting Gordillo house arrest.
That came shortly after a political party she founded joined a coalition with the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ahead of July 1 elections.
Del Toro denied there was any political deal behind the scenes. "This is absolutely a legal issue. It has no connotation of a political order," he said, according to Foro TV.
PRI presidential candidate Jose Antonio Meade echoed that sentiment this week, saying that "correlation is not coincidence, correlation is not causality."
The National Alliance Party that Gordillo helped create had moved to distance itself from the former union boss after her arrest.
Before her fall from grace, Gordillo, commonly referred to as "the teacher," was known for her lavish lifestyle — designer clothes and handbags, properties in Southern California worth millions of dollars — as well as for being a behind-the-scenes political power broker in Mexico.
Gordillo was arrested after she tried to mobilize union members against educational reforms that sapped much of the syndicate's power when they were implemented by the nascent administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is also from the PRI.