Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus is now known to all as a ‘villain’ in Bangladesh as he allegedly stood in the way of construction of the country’s largest structure Padma Multipurpose Bridge.
Allegations are rife that Dr Yunus, who is supposed to be revered by the people of the country for winning Nobel Prize, conspired to stop World Bank funding for the Padma Bridge project.
His role after the country’s 1/11 political changeover had drawn strong criticism from different quarters, particularly civil society members. Since then he became a controversial person in the country.
There are also widespread allegations that Dr Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder, had illegally transferred fund of foreign donors to different private organisations to serve his own interests.
Besides, a stunning allegation has recently surfaced against Dr Yunus that he unlawfully settled all the 110 cases, filed against him by Grameen Telecom union of workers and employees, with Tk 250 million.
People of the country have no more esteem for the Nobel laureate they see him as a villain due to such anti-state activities. He (Dr Yunus), however, has refuted all the allegations brought against him. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently come down heavily on Dr Yunus and his foreign associates for their ‘involvement’ in scrapping of World Bank’s financing for the Padma Bridge project.
The premier alleged that Dr Yunus had hatched a deep conspiracy against her Awami League-led government only to cling to the post of managing director of the Grameen Bank.
She said Dr Yunus had engaged then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Cherry Blair, spouse of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to lobby for him in getting back the MD post.
“They called me several times, but I told them that the law doesn’t allow Dr Yunus to remain as MD of Grameen Bank,” the premier added.
“The Nobel laureate along with an editor of a newspaper of the country convinced Hillary Clinton through several emails to withdraw the WB funding from the Padma Bridge project,” she claimed.
In the face of sharp criticism from the premier, other ministers and Awami League leaders, the Yunus Centre on June 29 issued a statement, refuting all the allegations against Dr Yunus.
But the ministers and Awami League party leaders termed the statement an evil attempt to hide the truth.
Brushing aside Yunus Centre’s claim, Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud said, “It is crystal clear that Dr Yunus opposed Padma Bridge construction and so, obstructed WB financing for the project. There will be no use of hiding the truth.”
Awami League insiders allege that Dr Yunus is the mastermind behind this deep-rooted conspiracy to stop construction of the Padma Bridge.
People at home and abroad know it very well that Dr Yunus played a role of a key perpetrator in scrapping WB’s credit for Padma Bridge as he has special intimacy with Hillary.
Awami League presidium member Matia Chowdhury recently alleged that Dr Yunus had hatched a conspiracy against the country breaking the boundary of etiquette by giving false information to the lending agency.
“The Padma Bridge has been built. Now how they will show their face and speak publicly,” she added.
Another ruling party leader mentioned that the then World Bank president Robert Bruce Zoellick stated that there was no logical reason for scrapping of the credit.
Firstly, Bangladesh is one of the WB’s partner countries and it has share in WB and secondly, Bangladesh has never been a loan defaulter in terms of paying back debt as the country’s position is very good in the world, a presidium member said citing comments of Zoellick.
As there was no logical ground for the withdrawal of World Bank’s credit, continuous pressure had been put on the then WB president, he alleged, adding that but Zoellick didn’t do so.
Zoellick had been forced to sign the decision to scrap the financing at the eleventh hour on his last working day as WB president, insiders said.
AL information and research secretary Dr Selim Mahmud said some people, including Dr Yunus, engaged a lobbyist firm in the United States to obstruct construction of the Padma Bridge.
“The evil clique has spent millions of dollars that was laundered from the country. All concerned need to find out how they smuggled this money out of the country,” the AL leader said.
He said Dr Yunus illegally held the post of Grameen Bank MD for additional 10 years and wanted to cling to it.
In Bangladesh, the age limit for serving as MD of a bank is 60 years and it is applicable for private banks too, the AL leader mentioned.
Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim said those who had hatched conspiracy to obstruct construction of the Padma Bridge must be brought to book.
“Dr Yunus and his associate must be brought to book as per the law of the country as they have committed heinous crimes,” he added.
Noting that the government always tried to save Grameen Bank after the 1998 devastating flood, Rezaul Karim said the AL government had invested Tk 4 billion in Grameen Bank for the sake of the people hit by the natural calamity.
After assuming office for the first term, Sheikh Hasina gave licence to Grameen Phone and also to Dr Yunus in the name of Grameen Bank.
At that time, it was stated that money of Grameen Phone will be credited to Grameen Bank, another AL leader said. “Had the money been credited to Grameen Bank?” he posed a question.
Mentioning Yunus Centre’s statement, another AL leader said Dr Yunus denied the allegation that donated to the Clinton Foundation. But when local and international newspapers published reports on it but Yunus didn’t deny it then, he said.
Just a day before the statement by Yunus Centre, lawmakers demanded slapping of sanctions on Dr Yunus and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former British first lady lawyer Cherie Blair.
AL insiders alleged that apart from Padma Bridge and Grameen Bank issues, Dr Yunus expressed his strong political ambition.
On February 11, 2007, Dr Yunus in a letter sought support of the countrymen to float a political party to ‘reform’ the politics of the country.
“He observed that the current political climate seeks to destroy the potential of the country and so without a comprehensive change there, it would never be possible to take the nation ‘to the height it deserves,” Yunus wrote in an English daily.
He further said it was time for the country to get rid of its past frustrations and give rise to a political structure in the country that Bangladeshis dreamt of.
Even the information leaked by Wikileaks confirms his strong desire to set foot on the political landscape.
On February 13, 2007 Wikileaks published an article titled “Nobel Prize Winner Dr Muhammad Yunus Considers Entering Bangladesh Politics”.
They mentioned that Dr Yunus had detailed discussion with Indian officials on February 12, 2007, during a two-day visit to Kolkata on his plan to make a debut in Bangladesh politics.
Expressing his political interest, Dr Yunus stated that he was reviewing his options. He also advocated in favour of the then caretaker government and their decision to declare a “state of emergency” on the grounds that it had rescued the country from a possible civil war.
That Dr Yunus was keen to join politics was also reflected in a write-up that appeared in Kolkata’s ‘Telegraph’. In reference to a Pranab Mukerjee’s book, the author illustrated Hillary Clinton’s urge to India to back the plan to undo Hasina and settle Yunus in power in Bangladesh.
Both Hillary Clinton and her successor as US secretary of state, John Kerry, believed that corrupt politicians were holding back the potential of Bangladesh and favoured the idea that social entrepreneur and micro-credit pioneer Dr Yunus could deliver the country to better times.
In March 2011, human chains were formed in many places in Bangladesh to support Yunus, whom Sheikh Hasina’s government had removed from the post of managing director of Grameen Bank.
It appeared that the human chains would be the fountainheads of a revolution to overthrow Sheikh Hasina, as in many countries where elected leaders were ousted by “popular” movements orchestrated from abroad.
As the political temperature rose in Bangladesh on Yunus issue, Mukherjee, who was then finance minister in the UPA government, one day got a phone call from Clinton who, as Barack Obama’s secretary of state, was taking a degree of interest in South Asia that was unprecedented by the standards of most of her predecessors.
A news report published by CBS News also claimed that Dr Yunus met Hillary Clinton thrice and talked to her over the phone.
It was during that period Bangladeshi government authorities investigated Dr Yunus oversight of a nonprofit bank and ultimately pressured him to step down from the bank’s board.
Throughout the process, he pleaded for help in messages routed to Clinton, and she ordered aides to find ways to assist him.
Previously he had ordered the American affiliates of his non-profit Grameen Bank that had been working with the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative programmes as early as 2005, to donate between $100,000 and $ 250,000 to the foundation.
Grameen Research, another Grameen wing chaired by Dr Yunus, donated between $25,000 and $50,000 to Clinton’s Foundation. These donations might be well linked with Hillary’s support to empower him as a political leader in Bangladesh.
Dr Yunus has been embroiled in controversy in 2015 as he was summoned by the National Board of Revenue (NBR) authorities over non-payment of taxes to the tune of Tk 153.9 million against Tk 770 million that his family members and others got as gift.
In 2010, a Danish documentary titled “Caught in Micro Debt” by Tom Heinemann made allegations against D Yunus and Grameen Bank of diverting funds worth about $100 million given to the bank by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD).
The aid had been agreed in 1994 between Grameen and Norad to be used for housing loans for the poor people in Bangladesh.
It came as a surprise in 1996 to the Norwegian embassy that the money was transferred to a newly created business–Grameen Kalayan–where part of the money was used for projects other than the agreed housing loans.
Tom Heinemann, the director of the documentary ” Caught in Micro Debt”, produced letters exchanged between Norad and Grameen Bank which clearly show that the aid agency was deeply disturbed that Yunus had transferred the funds from Grameen Bank to Grameen Kalyan (a newly formed organisation distinct from Grameen Bank)–in contravention of the agreement behind the aid and done in secrecy without informing the donors.
However, documents obtained by Heinemann show that not all of the money was transferred back to Grameen Bank for the purposes of housing loans. His documents show that $8.3 million was transferred to Grameen Telecom and Grameen Phone, a profit-making part of the Grameen business.
In 1996, the Norwegians had concerns about Yunus’ handling of the aid money and wrote to him for an explanation.
Yunus turned to the then director general of Norad, Tove Strand Gerhardesn, and practically begged for her help to assuage an increasingly unhappy Norweigian Embassy in Bangladesh: Hardly the sort of letter one would write over a ‘simple’ misunderstanding.
In January 2011, Grameen Bank came under scrutiny when the government ordered a probe into allegations that the donations to the bank were not being used for the intended purposes. In response, a group called “Friends of Grameen” was formed to protect Yunus from “politically orchestrated attacks.”
In March 2011, D Yunus was asked to step down as head of the bank as he was holding the post in violation of the country’s retirement law. As per the law, the retirement age is 60. Yunus was 70 at the time. His review petitions were rejected by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in May 2011.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received threats from abroad over the removal of Dr Yunus from Grameen Bank.
“Efforts were made to stop the Padma Bridge project over a particular person’s remaining or not remaining in the position of managing director (of Grameen Bank). Even I was directly threatened,” Sheikh Hasina said on January 17 in 2016.
Later, it was revealed that sacked Dr Yunus had desperately asked for Hillary Clinton’s help for ending his feud with Sheikh Hasina-led government over the control of Grameen Bank.