South Asia

Bangladesh: Muhammad Yunus eyes 'graceful' Grameen exit

Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus
Image caption Prof Yunus and the Bangladeshi government have increasingly been at loggerheads

Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has said he wants a "graceful exit", as he launches a legal challenge to his sacking from the Grameen Bank.

Prof Yunus said he was happy to step down but he wanted to secure the future of the microfinance bank he founded.

On Wednesday, the central bank sacked him, saying he was past retirement age and had been improperly appointed.

Correspondents say the effort to remove Prof Yunus is the culmination of a long-running feud with the government.

On Thursday, he lodged a case challenging his dismissal in Bangladesh's High Court but he made it clear that he is happy to leave his post as managing director as long as there is a stable handover to his successor.

"If there is any lack of confidence over Grameen Bank and if people have lack of trust over the institution, then the Grameen Bank will be a shaky institution," Prof Yunus said after the court hearing.

"It is no matter whether I remain in the institution or not. I am trying to secure the future of the institution," he said.

The court is set to rule on the dismissal on Sunday.

'Deeply troubled'

Prof Yunus fell out with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2007. He angered her by trying to set up a new party while she was under house arrest on the orders of the military government.

In December, Ms Hasina accused Prof Yunus of treating Grameen Bank as his "personal property" and claimed that it was "sucking blood from the poor".

Bangladesh Bank, the country's central bank, said that Prof Yunus had violated the country's retirement laws by staying on as Grameen's head long past the mandatory retirement age of 60. Prof Yunus is 70.

Image caption US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to meet Prof Yunus next week

Prof Yunus argues that he has special dispensation to stay in charge of the Grameen Bank - which he heads after establishing it in 1983 - beyond retirement age.

The government owns a 25% stake in Grameen Bank, which pioneered the microfinance concept of lending small amounts of money to the poor which has been replicated worldwide.

Correspondents say that the attempted sacking of Prof Yunus is not likely to be well-received internationally.

A group of charities led by former Irish President Mary Robinson came to his defence last month, arguing that he had been unfairly vilified by the government.

The latest developments come after a difficult six months for Prof Yunus.

He has had to defend himself against increased efforts by the government to force him out as well as allegations in a TV documentary that aid money was wrongly transferred from one part of Grameen to another in the mid-1990s.

While his supporters say that he helped lift nine million mostly female borrowers out of poverty, critics argue that the microfinance concept worldwide has been discredited.

In India, it has been alleged that onerous conditions placed on borrowers have led to a spate of suicides.

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