Bangladesh orders Nobel laureate out of microlender

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh's government ordered Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from his post as head of his microfinance bank Wednesday — a humiliating blow for an activist whose revolutionary idea of giving out small loans lifted many out of poverty. But the Grameen Bank said he remained in charge and that it would fight the decision.

The demand for Mr. Yunus‘ removal as Grameen’s managing director capped a string of problems that faced the outspoken government critic, including an apparently politically motivated defamation trial and accusations of an unauthorized bank transfer 15 years ago.

Bangladesh’s central bank ordered him out, arguing that he violated the country’s retirement laws, A.F.M. Asaduzzaman, an official at Bangladesh Bank, told the Associated Press. Grameen Bank has been notified by letter, Mr. Asaduzzaman said, providing no further details. The government owns a 25 percent stake in Grameen, while the remainder of the bank is owned by its borrowers.

In a statement, however, Grameen said Mr. Yunus was still holding his post.

Mr. Yunus is “continuing his work as the managing director of the bank,” said the brief statement signed by Jannat-E-Quanine, general manager of the bank. “Since it’s a legal issue, we will fight it legally.”

Mr. Yunus founded the bank three decades ago, pioneering the concept of reducing poverty by making tiny loans to the poor. His work, which spurred a boom in such lending across the developing world, earned him and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Recently, Mr. Yunus has been under pressure at home. In addition to his legal troubles, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging high interest rates and “sucking blood from the poor borrowers.”

But he remains a hero to the poor.

Shefali Akter, 25, who has taken out two loans totaling 70,000 takas ($1,000) from Grameen since 2002, called Mr. Yunus‘ removal “bad news.”

“The bank is all about him,” she told the Associated Press by phone from northern Mymensingh district. “We know he is a respected man. He has brought honor to the country. We all have respect for him.”

Efforts to remove Mr. Yunus from Grameen intensified in recent weeks, with the central bank claiming that the 70-year-old Mr. Yunus violated the country’s retirement laws by staying on as the bank’s head well past the mandatory retirement age of 60.

Grameen Bank says the normal retirement rule does not apply to it because the bank is run under a special 1983 law. Mr. Yunus was appointed managing director of the bank for an indefinite period in 2000, when he reached 60, the bank says.

Mr. Yunus could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith told reporters he had received a letter from the central bank accusing Mr. Yunus of flouting the retirement rules.

Khondoker Muzammel Huq, chairman of Grameen, received a copy of the letter and presented it Monday to the bank’s board, but adjourned the meeting without making a decision on it.

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