‘Charges against Muhammad Yunus politically motivated’

February 18th, 2011 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, Feb 18 (IANS) Eminent people from across the world have formed “Friends of Grameen”, vowing to protect the micro-credit pioneer and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from “politically orchestrated” attacks. Over 50 charities and public figures, including former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, former chief justice of India J.S. Verma and French-born American actress Yeardley Smith have joined hands to form the voluntary body.

Former Irish president Mary Robinson has also joined the development partners, prominent personalities, and corporations.

Yunus and the Grameen Bank that he founded in mid-1970s “have fallen victims to a campaign of misinformation”, according to a statement of Friends of Grameen.

The statement comes after Finance Minister AMA Muhith called for Yunus to step aside from his position in the bank until the government’s three-month-long probe ends.

In December last, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused the Nobel laureate of treating Grameen Bank as his “personal property” and claimed the group was “sucking blood from the poor”.

There are about 1,200 micro lending organisations in Bangladesh, catering to over 30 million clients who do not have access to formal banking.

Formed Feb 11, Friends of Grameen is a voluntary association that aims to promote micro-credit and social business, especially the micro-credit activities of Grameen Bank and its affiliates.

Robinson, also a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, chairs the honorary committee while Maria Nowak, president of pioneering French microfinance institution ADIE, heads the executive committee.

Yunus, who shared the Nobel Prize with Grameen Bank in 2006, has been targeted with increasingly aggressive attacks by the government as well as his opponents following a Norwegian documentary, released last December, accusing him and the bank of malpractices.

Grameen Bank denied all the allegations, saying the issue had been amicably settled between the bank and the Norwegian government, one of its main donors, over a decade ago.

“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing attacks against Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank, that are politically orchestrated,” said Robinson in the statement.

She said while some micro-lenders have become lucrative commercial enterprises, Yunus and Grameen Bank follow a sustainable model — with very transparent and reasonable interest rates — making the borrowers owners of the bank.

Grameen Bank lends its clients at 20 percent interest, one of the lowest in Bangladesh where the industry average is 20-30 percent, with some charging as high as 45 percent.

“Because of the importance of such a role model, our duty is to protect the integrity of Professor Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank,” said Robinson.

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