Dhaka: Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi winner of the 2006 Nobel peace prize, on Tuesday lost a high court appeal after being sacked from his own bank in a bitter clash with the country’s authorities.
Yunus, 70, who is celebrated worldwide for tackling poverty through his pioneering “microfinance” cash loans to small farmers and villagers, was fired last week on the orders of Bangladesh’s central bank.
Backed by a high-profile international campaign amid allegations of a political vendetta, he defied the order by returning to work at Grameen Bank’s headquarters and lodging an appeal which he will now take to the Supreme Court.
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“Yunus has been continuing in his job with no legal basis. Therefore, his petition is rejected,” judge Muhammad Mamtaj Uddin Ahmed told the court on Tuesday.
It was “crystal clear” that the order to remove Yunus from his post as managing director was legal, Ahmed said.
“Also, the managing director is an officer of the bank, and the mandatory retirement age for bank officers is 60, so he has exceeded his retirement age long ago,” he said.
The central bank—which is nominally independent from the government—removed Yunus on the basis that he had been in his position illegally since failing to seek its approval when he was reappointed indefinitely in 1999.
“There is no such thing as an appointment for life. Yunus should have rejected this appointment when the Grameen Bank board made it,” attorney general Mahbubey Alam told reporters.
But supporters say Yunus’ troubles stem from 2007, when he floated the idea of forming a political party, earning the wrath of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has publicly disparaged his work.
Alam, who was appointed by the Prime Minister, said that Yunus did not have the right to flout the country’s laws even as a Nobel Prize winner.
“If anyone should get a Nobel peace prize in Bangladesh it should be Sheikh Hasina,” he said, pointing to a peace deal she signed with tribal groups in 1997 during her first term in office.
Friends of Grameen, a lobby group chaired by former Irish president Mary Robinson, described the court verdict as “politically oriented and without legal grounds”.
One of Yunus’ lawyers, Tanim Hussain Shawon, said the Nobel laureate—who was not in court on Tuesday—had expected the judges to rule against him. “We expressed our apprehension that we would not receive justice and that apprehension has been realized,” Shawon said.
Grameen Bank issued a statement saying it was “very disappointed” with the ruling, and his lawyers said he would take his case to the Supreme Court. “Yes, there will be an appeal. We will be taking an appeal forward, we hope as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday),” Sara Hossain, another lawyer of Yunus, told AFP.
In December, following the release of a Norwegian TV documentary critical of Yunus, Prime Minister Hasina accused him of “sucking blood from the poor” and pulling a financial “trick” to avoid paying tax.
Yunus has since been vilified in the Bangladeshi press and summoned to court three times in cases nominally connected to Grameen, while his bank has become the target of a government probe.
His sacking sparked street protests in Bangladesh and widespread condemnation from overseas, including from US senator John Kerry.
Grameen Bank, which is 25% state-owned and employs 24,000 people, provides collateral-free loans to eight million borrowers, the vast majority from rural areas.
Analysts say Grameen’s huge influence in Bangladesh and its move into solar panels, mobile phones and other consumer goods has triggered the government’s envy.
“They want to put their own person at the chair of the bank, a political person,” Yunus told a Washington microfinance conference via video link late on Monday.
Grameen Bank was founded in 1983, and its work has been copied in developing countries around the world since then.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint