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Yunus victim of character assassination

DHAKA, Mar 7 – A court hearing into whether Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus was illegally sacked from his microfinance bank resumed Monday as his lawyers accused authorities of "character assassination".

Yunus, 70, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering concept of small cash loans to tackle poverty, was removed from Grameen Bank last week in what his supporters say was part of a political vendetta against him.

He has defied the central bank\’s dismissal order, returning to work at Grameen\’s headquarters in Dhaka and lodging the High Court case contesting his firing.

"Yunus\’s lawyers will question the intention of the (central) Bangladesh Bank" in removing him, Tanim Hussain Shawon, a member of Yunus\’s legal team, told AFP on Monday.

The central bank says Yunus had been in his position illegally since he did not seek its approval when he was reappointed to the post of Grameen Bank managing director in 2000.

"The central bank has been inspecting Grameen Bank for the last 12 years. All these years, they never questioned Yunus\’s reappointment. This raises suspicions they are part of a character assassination of Yunus," Shawon said.

Yunus\’s lawyers told the court on Sunday that the Bangladesh Bank was not the competent authority to fire him.

"The Bangladesh Bank does not have the right to remove officials of Grameen Bank because Grameen Bank is not a regular bank and it was created under a separate statute," Shawon added.

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"Yunus\’s sacking met none of the conditions (in the 1991 Banking Companies Act) under which the central bank can remove the managing director of a private bank."

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said he would defend the government and the central bank\’s decision after Yunus\’s legal team finished its case.

Supporters say Yunus\’s troubles stem from 2007 when he floated the idea of forming a political party, earning the wrath of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has publicly disparaged his work.

In December, following the release of a Norwegian TV documentary critical of Yunus, Hasina accused him of "sucking blood from the poor" and pulling a financial "trick" to avoid paying tax.

Yunus has since been vilified in the Bangladeshi press, summoned to court three times in cases nominally connected to Grameen and seen his bank become the target of a government probe.

But the removal of Yunus sparked street protests in Bangladesh and condemnation from overseas, including from senior US Senator John Kerry.

Grameen Bank, which is 25 percent state-owned and employs 24,000 people, provides collateral-free loans to eight million borrowers, the vast majority from rural areas.

Since being founded in 1983, its work has been copied in developing countries around the world.

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