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Bangladesh tries again to oust Nobel laureate from bank post

By Sara Sidner, CNN
The Bangladeshi government says it has fired Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the bank he founded nearly 30 years ago.
The Bangladeshi government says it has fired Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the bank he founded nearly 30 years ago.
  • The government says Muhammad Yunus was removed as general manager
  • But Grameen Bank says he was not fired
  • Yunus pioneered microcredit and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006
  • His supporters say the government is out to get him

(CNN) -- It's not often that a Nobel Peace Prize laureate gets fired, but the Bangladeshi government said Wednesday it did just that in dismissing Muhammad Yunus from a top post in the pioneering bank he founded.

Grameen Bank's general manager, however, disputed the government's claim.

K.M. Abdul Waddod, the general manager of the Bangladesh Central Bank's regulation and policy department, said his bank, the regulatory authority in the South Asian nation, had sent for a second time a letter to the Grameen Bank chairman, urging the ouster of Yunus from his post of managing director because he was past retirement age.

The government, which has a 25% stake in Grameen, said that by the bank's own rules, Yunus, now 70, was required to end his service when he turned 60.

"He did not inform us he is over that age," Waddod said. "The bank did let him go."

Muzammel Huq, the new government-appointed Grameen chairman, told CNN that he had received the letter of the central bank.

"The central bank has removed Professor Yunus as managing director of the bank and I'll act accordingly under the bank's law," Huq said.

He said the deputy managing director of the bank will take over until Yunus' post can be filled.

But a Grameen Bank statement said Yunus had not been fired.

"This is a legal issue," said the statement signed by Jannat-E-Quanine, Grameen's general manager. "Grameen Bank has been duly complying with all applicable laws. It has also complied with the law in respect of appointment of the managing director. According to the bank's legal advisers, the founder of Grameen Bank, Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, is accordingly continuing in his office."

Yunus pioneered microcredit financing and founded Grameen Bank nearly three decades ago in an effort to alleviate poverty by lending to the poor, who could not otherwise qualify for bank loans. Throughout this battle with the government, he has refused to resign from the bank that won him a Nobel prize in 2006.

Yunus' supporters say the effort to remove him has little to do with age and much to do with the larger issue of microcredit and its primary vehicle in Bangladesh -- Grameen Bank.

A recent television documentary alleged that Yunus illegally diverted Grameen money. Grameen denied the charges and investigators in Norway, a key bank donor, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

But critics of microcredit have charged that lenders were making big money off of small loans.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina minced no words when she compared Grameen's operations to "sucking the blood from the poor in the name of alleviating poverty."

Yunus' supporters also say that he is under fire for criticizing politicians and trying to form his own political party four years ago during an interim, unelected military-backed government. That party was later abandoned.

The government, however, denies that the Grameen actions are politically motivated.

CNN's Harmeet Shah Singh and Moni Basu and journalist Farid Ahmed contributed to this report.