Bangladesh court indicts Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, 13 others on embezzlement charges

A special judge’s court in Bangladesh on Wednesday indicted Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and 13 others on charges in an over US$2 million embezzlement case.

Yunus, 83, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for pioneering microcredit to help impoverished people, especially women, pleaded not guilty and is out on bail for now. He told reporters that authorities were “harassing” him and other colleagues, and denied being involved in any corruption.

In a packed Dahka courtroom, Special Judge in Dhaka Syed Arafat Hossain dismissed petitions seeking the charges – which centres around Yunus’ non-profit Grameen Telecom – to be dropped.

The prosecution has accused Yunus and the others of embezzling 250 million takas (about US$2 million) from the worker’s welfare fund of Grameen Telecom, which owns 34.2 per cent of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecoms giant Telenor. They are also accused of money laundering.

Hossain, the judge, said the prosecution was able to preliminarily back their argument and proved the charges of misappropriation of funds and sending money abroad illegally, adding the trial is to start on July 15.

In January, Yunus was sentenced to six months in prison on a separate charge of violating labour laws. He was granted bail while awaiting the verdict.

Last year, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates urged Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to suspend legal proceedings against Yunus. His supporters say he has been targeted because of his frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The government has denied the allegations.