Grameen: Norway gives all-clear to Bangladesh bank

Women in Bangladesh The Grameen Bank has specialised in giving small loans to women

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Norway has told the BBC that there are "no more unanswered questions" into claims that the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh wrongly diverted aid cash.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Oslo said that the matter had been thoroughly investigated and that it considered it to be closed.

A documentary alleged that nearly $100m of Norwegian aid was transferred from Grameen Bank to other parts of Grameen.

The bank has strongly denied the allegations.

"We are fully satisfied that no Norwegian money is missing or unaccounted for," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

He said that it was agreed in 1998 that the bank should return money wrongly transferred from the Grameen Bank to Grameen Kalyan - another part of more than 30 companies headed by Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus that make up the the Grameen group of companies.

"We decided to re-examine the case after fresh attention to the cash diversion was made in a documentary," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

"Again we wish to stress that there is no indication that Norwegian funds have been used for unintended purposes, or that Grameen Bank has engaged in corrupt practices or embezzled funds."

'Sucking blood'

Last week the bank issued a 1,600-word statement which spoke of the "mental agony" caused by an "inaccurate and misleading news report published globally regarding an alleged 'siphoning off' of a large amount money by Professor Yunus through one of his organisations".

Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus Grameen Bank's micro-finance model has been replicated around the world

Prof Yunus set up the bank in Bangladesh in 1996 to make small loans to the poor.

Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann claimed Prof Yunus and his associates had diverted the money to Grameen Kalyan, which was not involved in micro-credit.

Correspondents say that the latest allegations have added to the worldwide pressure on the micro-finance industry, which earlier this week was accused of "sucking blood from the poor" by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

She has demanded an investigation into the 1990s fund transfer, arguing that the micro-finance sector had "not lifted people from poverty."

"Is there any other business that forces people to pay 30% to 40% interest on loans?" she asked, accusing Grameen of transferring the money to avoid tax.

She said that the Bangladeshi people "have been used as a guinea pig" by micro-finance groups, who had raised millions of dollars of aid by cynically "showcasing" the poor while failing to improve people's lives.

Sheikh Hasina fell out with Prof Yunus in 2007 when he set up his own short-lived political party.

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