Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bangladesh PM says US threatened her over Yunus' Grameen Bank sacking

  • Sumon Mahbub from Munich,
    Published: 2017-02-18 01:34:48 BdST


Though Muhammad Yunus has claimed himself innocent in Padma Bridge 'conspiracy', Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says top US officials, including the ambassador, threatened her with suspension of funds for the bridge project.

She has alleged US government officials had also threatened her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, an expatriate in that country, with causing 'other problems than Padma funds'.

"The American ambassador threatened me at my office (on several occasions) to stop the Padma Bridge funds if Yunus was removed from Grameen Bank as its MD," she told a programme in Munich on Friday.

"Assistant Secretary Blake (Robert O Blake) came and spoke in the same tone. Hillary Clinton called me…same thing happened," she said.

"Even my son Joy had been called to the State Department thrice. He was told, 'You'll face problems. Hillary won't take it lightly. Please wise up your mother'," Hasina added.

The World Bank signed a $1.2 billion loan agreement with Bangladesh in 2011 for the Padma Bridge project.

Financial regulators Bangladesh Bank removed Yunus from Grameen Bank as its managing director the same year because his age violated the existing service rule. He challenged the order in court but lost.

When Yunus was active with 'various activities' to continue as the bank's MD, the World Bank put the Padma Bridge deal on hold alleging suspected corruption.

The then communications minister Syed Abul Hossain had to step down following conditions set by the global lender for the funds. Seven government officials, including a secretary, were arrested.

At one stage of the tug of war, the government withdrew its request for the fund and decided to build the bridge fully with domestic resources.

Yunus' alleged role in getting the Washington-based World Bank to pursue the graft allegation recently returned to discussions after a Canadian court acquitted three business executives of charges of planned bribing of Bangladeshi officials. It cited inadmissibility of prosecution evidence in court.

Awami League leaders are now demanding punishment of Yunus for 'conspiring' to have the World Bank funds cancelled. The High Court has issued a rule seeking an explanation why it should not order a trial of the Padma Bridge 'conspirators'.

On Thursday, Yunus Centre said in a statement that the Nobel laureate 'never made any statement privately or publicly to anyone about the possibility of corruption in the Padma Bridge project at any time'.

Hasina wondered at the programme in Germany: "Why a person is so greedy to remain a bank MD after getting so much honour?"

She noted that law forbids keeping persons aged over 60 as bank MD. She also said ‘one editor’ had lobbied for him.

"He was 70 years old but was not willing to leave the MD's post. He lobbied for this along with an editor," the prime minister said.

She said the government 'did not want to remove Yunus completely’ from the bank. "We wanted to give him an adviser's post. But Dr Kamal (lawyer Dr Kamal Hossain) advised him to initiate a legal battle.

"After losing the case, he vented all his anger at me and the Padma Bridge," she added

Expressing satisfaction over the Canada court verdict, Hasina said, "We are grateful to Allah...but those who suffered because of this will never get the time back."

"We know how much they had suffered. My children and sister had suffered. Our minister (had to step down), my Adviser Mashiur Rahman (had been sent on forced leave), and the secretary was put in jail for nothing," she added.