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Bangladesh urges bank founder to quit

By Farid Ahmed, For CNN
Muhammad Yunus is under pressure from the government to resign from the bank he founded nearly three decades ago.
Muhammad Yunus is under pressure from the government to resign from the bank he founded nearly three decades ago.
  • Grameen Bank founder refuses to step down
  • Yunus, a Nobel laureate, is recent target of lawsuits
  • State official says Yunus is too old to remain managing director

(CNN) -- The Bangladeshi government has called on Nobel laureate and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus to retire from the bank he founded nearly three decades ago to help the poor, but he has said no.

"It's not possible, and if I withdraw myself from Grameen Bank, it'll collapse," Yunus said, according to Bangladeshi Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith.

Yunis, the target of three recent lawsuits, was not available to comment directly.

Muhith told CNN on Tuesday that Yunis is too old to continue as managing director of the bank. "Normally the retirement age of a bank's managing director in Bangladesh is 65, and professor Yunus is now 70," Muhith said, adding Yunus could continue as a director.

Muhith said the move had no link to politics, but many analysts said Yunus was still under fire at home for criticizing politicians and trying to form a political party four years ago during an interim, unelected government that was backed by the military. That party was later abandoned.

In the last few months, two criminal cases and a defamation suit were filed against Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with his Grameen Bank in 2006.

The government formed a committee to probe into Grameen activities in January over charges by Norway of an unauthorized aid fund transfer. The Norwegian government cleared him of any wrongdoing last month.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused Yunus of playing a "trick" to evade taxes and charged last month that microlenders suck "blood from the poor in the name of poverty alleviation."

The most recent of his lawsuits, filed Tuesday, is a fraud charge brought by a villager, who says bills for his mobile phone were inflated. Grameen Phone, a joint venture with Norwegian Telenor, is a leading phone company in the country.

The defamation charge was brought against Yunus by a politician for his comments in a 4-year-old interview in which he reportedly criticized politicians and said they were only in "power to make money."

He was also sued last month by the Dhaka City Corporation for producing "substandard" yogurt meant for the poor. The yogurt is produced by a joint venture between French food giant Danone and Yunus' Grameen Bank.