DHAKA, Bangladesh >> Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus launched a court case Thursday to reverse a Bangladesh government order dismissing him as the head of the microfinance bank he founded.
Yunus petitioned the High Court challenging the government order to remove him from the Grameen Bank as illegal, his lawyer Sara Hossain said. The court was to hold a formal hearing later Thursday.
Bangladesh’s central bank ordered Yunus out of the bank Wednesday, arguing that he had violated the country’s retirement laws. Grameen said Yunus would remain in his post.
The government owns a 25 percent stake in the bank, while the remainder is owned by its borrowers.
The demand for Yunus’ removal as Grameen’s managing director caps a string of problems facing the outspoken government critic, including an apparently politically motivated defamation trial and accusations of an unauthorized bank transfer 15 years ago.
Yunus founded the bank three decades ago, pioneering the concept of reducing poverty by making tiny loans to the poor. His work, which spurred a boom in such lending across the developing world, earned him and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Recently, Yunus has been under pressure at home. In addition to his legal troubles, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging high interest rates and “sucking blood from the poor borrowers.”
But he remains a hero to the poor.
Shefali Akter, 25, who has taken out two loans totaling 70,000 takas ($1,000) from Grameen since 2002, called Yunus’ removal “bad news.”
“The bank is all about him,” she told The Associated Press by phone from northern Mymensingh district. “We know he is a respected man. He has brought honor to the country. We all have respect for him.”
Efforts to remove Yunus from Grameen intensified in recent weeks, with the central bank claiming that the 70-year-old Yunus violated the country’s retirement laws by staying on as the bank’s head well past the mandatory retirement age of 60.
Controversy surrounded Yunus after a Norwegian television documentary that screened in December accused him of transferring Norwegian development funds from Grameen Bank to another venture without prior approval in 1996. Pressure by the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka resulted in the funds being transferred back in 1998, and the Norwegian government has said there was no indication Grameen was engaged in corruption or embezzlement.
Grameen Bank, founded in 1983 in Bangladesh, currently has nearly 9 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women. Many use their small loans to make ends meet or to start small businesses.