Yunus slams Bangladesh probe into Grameen

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus on Wednesday questioned the need for an investigation into 54 businesses linked to the pioneering microlender Grameen Bank.

The four-member commission was ordered to look into the bank's affairs and affiliates, including how to regulate businesses that include renewable energy, telecommunications and garments. Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith has said the bank's board did not authorize the affiliates

Yunus said he was saddened by the news of the investigation.

"I believe without doubt that Grameen Bank's future will be endangered if the government reinforces its role in the bank activities by changing its legal framework," Yunus said in a statement.

"Has Grameen Bank done any major misdeed that needed this probe?" he asked.

Garmeen was a pioneer in issuing small loans to the poor as a way to overcome poverty, earning it and Yunus the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. It has about 9 million borrowers, mostly women.

The commission was formed a few days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Bangladesh's government to not do anything that might undermine the effectiveness of the bank. Muhith later dismissed her remarks as unwarranted.

Last year, another investigation found that Grameen violated its microlending charter by creating affiliates that did not benefit shareholders, and recommended the government incorporate those affiliates with the bank.

Yunus maintains those social businesses are independent and should remain so.

The government has denied it is interfering in bank activities. The commision report is due in three months.

Yunus and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have had frosty relations. Her administration ousted him as Grameen's managing director last year in a dispute over retirement age. Yunus, 71, argued he was exempt from a regulation setting 60 as the retirement age, but lost a court appeal.

Hasina 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 herself was behind bars.

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