Nobel laureate Yunus sees rule of law absent after conviction for labour law breach

Convicted of labour law violation, he appears in court for the hearing of another case over embezzlement

Published : 2 April 2024, 02:15 PM
Updated : 2 April 2024, 02:15 PM

Convicted of labour law violation, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has lamented the “absence of rule of law” after appearing in court for the hearing of another case over embezzlement. 

Yunus presented himself in the court on Tuesday as chairman of Grameen Telecom for the hearing of a case over alleged embezzlement of Tk 252.2 million from dividends for the company’s employees. 

Dhaka Metropolitan Senior Special Judge Ash Shams Jaglul Hossain admitted the charge sheet submitted by the Anti-Corruption Commission and sent the case to the Special Judge’s Court-4 for hearing on indictment starting on May 2.

The ACC filed the charge sheet on Feb 1, a month after a labour tribunal sentenced the 83-year old microcredit pioneer and three others to six months in jail for labour law violations. They secured bail after the conviction, pending an appeal. 

Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for their work to “create social and economic development from below” through microcredit. 

He was removed as its managing director in 2011 over his age. Yunus mounted a legal battle for control of the microcredit organisation, but lost. 

Critics say that microcredit has not increased incomes, but has driven poor households into a debt trap, in some cases even leading to suicide. But his supporters credit him with lifting millions out of poverty with the microfinance bank.

While speaking to the media after the hearing, Yunus said: “We should feel proud that the entire world wants to learn [about microcredit] from us. But instead, it appears that we’ve committed a crime. I fail to grasp why I am made to feel this way.”
"We’re talking about people’s welfare and providing a lifeline out of adversity. We’re guiding [other countries] towards the light of freedom, but facing barriers at every turn,” he said.

Asked what the adversity is, he said: “People can’t live the way they want to. We don't get the rule of law anywhere.” 

Alongside Yunus, 13 other people are accused in the case. They include Grameen Telecom's Director Parveen Mahmud, Managing Director Md Nazmul Islam, Director and former managing director Md Ashraful Hassan; Nazneen Sultana, Md Shahjahan, Noorjahan Begum, and director SM Hazzatul Islam Latifi.

The lawsuit followed an audit report by the Directorate of Factories and Establishments in early 2023, which prompted the ACC to conduct an investigation. 

During a previous hearing, Yunus' attorney argued that Grameen Telecom had resolved its issues with the workers, referring to a Tk 4.37 billion payment made to them as part of a settlement. 

However, the ACC lawyer challenged the argument, saying that the case in question was not about the Tk 4.37 billion settlement.

"The charges relate to the embezzlement of Tk 260 million and money laundering. The accused gave the money to trade union leaders instead of the workers, thereby depriving the ordinary workers of their rightful earnings."