Bangladesh's highest court on Thursday upheld the government's decision to remove Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from his pioneering microfinance agency Grameen Bank. The ruling ends his decades of leadership at the bank he set up to lend money to the poor.
A seven-member Supreme Court panel led by the chief justice announced it had dismissed Yunus' appeal to remain the bank's managing director.
The panel did not give any detailed explanation of its ruling _ a process Yunus' counsel Kamal Hossain strongly criticized, terming it "unprecedented."
Rokonuddin Mahmud, another counsel for Yunus, said he had been deprived justice.
Yunus has alleged that the government is trying to take control of the bank, which pioneered the practice of giving small loans to alleviate poverty.
Bangladesh's central bank removed Yunus, 71, as Grameen's chief executive earlier this year, saying he had violated retirement laws that bar officials from working after age 60 without special government approval.
Yunus appealed the dismissal but the Supreme Court upheld the government's decision last month, prompting Yunus to seek a final review from the court's top panel of judges.
At issue in the appeal was whether Yunus was exempt from the retirement regulation. The bank said its directors approved an exemption for him to remain as chief executive, but the central bank said that was inadequate and its approval had never been sought.
Grameen says the central bank gave its implicit approval because it raised no objections when it audited Grameen.
Apart from the legal battle over the retirement age, a government investigation last month concluded that Grameen Bank violated its charter as a microlender by creating affiliates that became successful business entities and did not benefit the bank's shareholders.
The investigation accused the bank management of violating several provisions of the 1983 charter that established the bank with a government stake.
The bank has disputed the investigation.
Yunus' pioneering idea of giving loans to the poor without any collateral encouraged a boom in such lending across the developing world, earning him and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
Yunus was not in court Thursday and could not immediately be reached for comment.
After the earlier court ruling in April, he asked the bank's staff to work "with greater dedication to keep this institution effective" and said they "must not let this institution slide down."
Yunus has long had frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
She was reportedly angered by Yunus' 2007 attempt to form his own political party backed by the powerful army when the country was under a state of emergency and Hasina was behind bars.
Hasina has also accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging high interest rates and "sucking blood from the poor borrowers."
The bank currently has about 9 million borrowers in Bangladesh, 97 percent of whom are women. Many use their small loans to make ends meet or to start small businesses.