News / Asia

Bangladeshi Banker Fights Ouster From Bank He Founded

Muhammad Yunus (file photo –10 Jul 2010)
Muhammad Yunus (file photo –10 Jul 2010)

A celebrated financier in Bangladesh is fighting a legal battle against a government order to remove him from a bank he founded.  

In his petition to the High Court in Dhaka, Muhammad Yunus has said the government’s recent order to remove him as managing director of Grameen Bank is illegal.

The Central Bank, which owns a 25 percent stake in Grameen Bank, sacked 70-year-old Yunus on Wednesday saying he has violated retirement laws by staying on past the age of 60. It also said proper procedures were not followed when he was appointed managing director in 1999.

Yunus, a famed economist, pioneered the concept of micro-credit, which involves granting loans as small as $27 to poor people to begin income-generating projects.  He established the Grameen Bank three decades ago to provide those loans.  As the concept of micro-credit spread to many developing countries, he won international acclaim and the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Yunus's supporters say his sacking is politically motivated. They say he earned the wrath of the political class in Bangladesh when he made a brief attempt to set up his own political party in 2007 after criticizing the country’s politicians.

In December, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused Yunus of treating the Bank as his personal property, and of robbing the poor.

But Yunus has the support of many in the country and overseas, including the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, who has criticized the move to sack him.

Ataus Samad, a political observer in Dhaka, says there is a widespread feeling that Yunus deserved better treatment.     

"People do think that someone who has won the Nobel Prize, he is a pride for Bangladesh, and it is also true that Grameen bank helped a lot of people to survive at least, whatever the criticism," said Samad.

The High Court will rule on Yunus’s dismissal on Sunday. He has said he wants a "graceful exit," and wants to secure the future of the institution he founded.

Local economists have expressed concerns that the government’s decision could lead to a collapse in confidence in the country’s micro-finance sector.

Yunus's supporters say he has helped to lift nearly nine million families out of poverty. His detractors point out that the micro-credit system he pioneered has come under a cloud in recent years in many countries, including India, for putting a heavy debt burden on poor borrowers.

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