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Bangladesh court indicts Nobel laureate Yunus for graft

DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus was indicted in a corruption case yesterday, the latest charges to proceed against the respected economist that supporters say are politically motivated.

Yunus, 83, is credited with lifting millions out of poverty with his pioneering microfinance bank but has earned the enmity of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor.

Hasina has made several scathing verbal attacks against the internationally esteemed 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was once seen as a prospective rival.

Yesterday’s indictment, brought by the national anti-corruption agency, accuses Yunus and 13 others of embezzling USD2.1 million from Grameen Telecom, one of several firms he founded.

Yunus’ lawyer Abdullah Al Mamun told AFP that the indictment was the most serious Yunus had faced so far.

“If found guilty, Yunus could face up to a life term in prison,” Mamun told AFP.

Yunus told reporters after the hearing that he was innocent and had devoted his life “to serve the people, not to embezzle money”.He said that being forced to spend the hearing sitting inside one of the cages recently introduced into Bangladeshi courtrooms to hold defendants had been “humiliating”.

“We don’t know why we have to go through this harassment,” he said.

Grameen Telecom, created to offer cheap mobile phone services in rural areas, is one of Bangladesh’s richest companies. It owns a 34 per cent stake in the country’s largest mobile phone network, worth billions of dollars.

Yunus and three colleagues from Grameen Telecom were sentenced to six months in jail in January after they were found guilty of violating labour laws.

All four denied the charges, which supporters and rights groups denounced as politically motivated, and have been bailed pending appeal.

Yunus was ousted from the telco’s board a month later and employers locked out of its office after the government-installed chairman of its parent company appointed new directors. Yunus is facing more than 100 other charges over labour law violations and alleged graft.

“Those cases are made on flimsy grounds,” he told AFP in an interview in the capital Dhaka in February.

Bangladesh’s Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus addresses the media at the Special Judge Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AFP
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