Bangladesh's controversial Grameen moves closer to central bank control

DHAKA Thu Oct 3, 2013 5:28pm IST

Employees of Grameen Bank walk in front of a portrait of Nobel laurate Muhammad Yunus in Dhaka March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/Files

Employees of Grameen Bank walk in front of a portrait of Nobel laurate Muhammad Yunus in Dhaka March 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Biraj/Files

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DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh on Thursday approved a draft of an act to bring the Nobel prize-winning microfinance lender Grameen Bank under the authority of the central bank, which its founder, Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, has said is a ploy to destroy it.

Yunus, 73, was removed as head of the bank in 2011 on the grounds that he had stayed on past the legal retirement age of 60. He was not immediately available for comment.

Yunus, dubbed "banker to the poor", was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for providing small loans which led to the creation of similar programmes in more than 100 nations from the United States to Uganda.

Lauded abroad by politicians and financiers at the time, he has been under attack from the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2010 after a Norwegian documentary alleged Grameen Bank was dodging taxes.

Yunus has denied any financial irregularities and his supporters say he is being discredited by the government because of a feud with Hasina dating back to 2007, when he tried to set up a rival political party while Bangladesh was ruled by an interim military government.

"The draft of the act has been approved at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hasina and the act will be sent to the parliament for enactment of the law in the current session," Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Muhsarraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters.

In September, the government launched tax probes against Yunus and his seven social business firms, accusing them of dodging millions of dollars in taxes.

Hasina herself has called Yunus a "bloodsucker of the poor" and sharply criticised Grameen Bank's microlending practices, especially after the Norwegian documentary alleged the bank had for tax purposes shifted funds provided by Norway's aid agency in the 1990s from one legal entity to another.

The bank has provided about $10 billion in small loans, most of them women, to fund businesses and help people escape poverty.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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