Fears that Bangladesh moves to take over Muhammad Yunus’ social businesses empire

Bangladesh Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith has said the government will form a commission to ensure "accountability" of the Grameen social businesses run by Nobel peace laureate Muhammad Yunus.

The government had fired Yunus from the microlending pioneer Grameen Bank last March, but the 2006 Nobel winner still leads scores of social businesses, aimed at creating jobs and reducing poverty in the country.

Critics including Yunus say the government is planning to take over the empire including its multi-billion-dollar stake in Grameenphone, the country's largest telecom company.

Muhith told reporters Sunday that although most of these social business had Grameen's name, they were not linked with the original microfinance lending institution which provides credit to the poor.

"All of them are tied with Professor Yunus. These 54 enterprises don't have any relation with micro-credit. They don't function in rural areas, they function all over the world," the minister said.

"We're setting up a commission for these enterprises … to establish a regime for this social investment, to bring some accountability and we have to understand how Grameen Bank entered into these [businesses]," he said.

The minister's comments come just a week after Yunus reportedly expressed concern that the government was planning to "grab" Grameen Bank and the other social businesses he now runs.

"The government is taking control of Grameen Bank and its associate enterprises. We have a big challenge ahead of us," he told Grameen Bank staff during a ceremony commemorating 20 years of the lender's union.

"All staff must wage a movement to resist the government's move to take control of the enterprises I've built," he said in comments published in Bengali Amadershomoy daily.

Yunus was fired by Bangladesh's central bank last year for exceeding the mandatory retirement age in a move widely seen as engineered by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The 71-year-old, known as the "banker to the poor," challenged his dismissal, but his appeal was thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Yunus has since said he would stay focused on his social businesses, which include Bangladesh's largest renewal energy company, a top garment manufacturer and providers of anti-mosquito nets, clean water and dairy products.

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