Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus said Monday the Bangladeshi government is seeking to gain control of the prize-winning bank he founded to provide loans to the poor.
Yunus, who has long had frosty relations with Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, charged that the government was seeking political advantage by controlling the Grameen Bank. The bank was founded in 1983 and spurred a boom in such lending across the developing world, earning Yunus and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.
"The government of today wants to make it (the bank) part of the government so that they can control it totally," he told a Washington news conference by video-link.
The United States is disturbed by developments at Grameen Bank and is trying to see that the matter is resolved in a way that "won't undermine the independence, integrity and effectiveness" of the bank, said Melanne Verveer, the U.S. ambassador at large on women's issues, who attended the news conference.
Yunus said he canceled his plans to attend the news conference because the Bangladeshi High Court has yet to rule on his effort to block his dismissal from Grameen, which was ordered by the central bank last week on the grounds the 70-year-old was working in violation of retirement laws.
He said it was important that Grameen remains in the hands of its poor borrowers who make up 75 percent of its shareholders. The government holds the other 25 percent but had now installed its own chairman and was looking to replace Yunus himself so the bank "becomes fully at their disposal."
Grameen Bank has nearly 9 million borrowers in Bangladesh, 97 percent of whom are women. Without needing collateral to borrow, many use their small loans to make ends meet or to start small businesses.
Hasina has accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging high interest rates and "sucking blood from the poor borrowers." She was reportedly angered by Yunus' 2007 attempt to form his own political party, backed by the country's powerful army.