Open letter on Prof Yunus: Hiding personal offense by exploiting global figures

Bangladeshis hope that those who signed the letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will at least check into the accusations made against Prof. Yunus since they firmly feel that Western leaders failed to recognize his ugly face behind the mask.

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Prof. Dr. Yunus, a Nobel laureate [ Photo: Special Arrangement]

Prof. Dr. Yunus, a Nobel laureate, is once again covered by the media. In an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, forty eminent individuals claim that Prof. Yunus is a victim of the government’s “unfair treatment”. Signatories of the letter include business leaders such as Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, artists including Bono and Peter Gabriel, government leaders including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former US Vice President Al Gore, and other international personalities. They expressed “deep concerns” about Yunus’s “well-being” and ability to focus on his work in the letter that ran as a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

If we look at it from the most basic level, the letter’s statements are implausible, biased, and based on insufficient evidence.It is “painful to see Prof. Yunus, a man of impeccable integrity, and his life’s work under unjustified attack and repeated harassment and investigation’ by the government of Bangladesh, the letter claims. But they didn’t specify what type of wrongdoing or attack Dr. Yunus had to endure or which of his projects had been obstructed. There is no information on how his operations in the country were impacted or stopped. He travels to countless locations abroad; has he been stopped? Is Dr. Yunus’s travel overseas prohibited? Is it forbidden for him to go to the airport? No local or foreign media outlet reported anything similar. Where are the barriers preventing his actions? This is the first allegation, which has no basis. The government has not treated Yunus in a way that warrants an open letter or even an advertisement. The Bangladeshi government was thus the target of what critics called a new disinformation campaign.

It’s interesting to see that the open letter was written at a time when the government is currently investigating and prosecuting him for a number of financial irregularities and corruption allegations. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) made the decision to look into claims that Grameen Telecom (GT) had improperly acquired over $2 million in cash, misused $4.8 million, and laundered $314 million. Grameen Telecom MD Nazmul Islam has previously been questioned by ACC about the accusation. ACC has already interrogated Grameen Telecom MD Nazmul Islam regarding the complaint. Further investigation uncovered other fraud, improprieties, and illegal activity at Grameen Bank under Yunus. It is also alleged that Professor Muhammad Yunus’ 14 institutes avoided paying about $3 billion in income taxes. So, officials of the ACC conducted the routine activities outside of their responsibility as a state organization. What is the role of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina here?

In addition, there are also widespread allegations that Dr Yunus had illegally transferred funds of foreign donors to different private organizations to serve his own interests, and he unlawfully settled all 110 cases filed against him by the Grameen Telecom union of workers and employees with Tk 250 million. All these cases put Yunus in an embarrassing situation. When this is the situation, Professor Yunus has waged a global lobbying campaign to exert pressure on the Bangladeshi government, and in particular, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He began trading words with world leaders in order to protect himself. Prof. Yunus was successful in deflecting attention from Hillary Clinton and other prominent figures abroad, as well as, most significantly, from the global media, by skillfully concealing his fraud and corruption. Millions of Bangladeshis were shocked that a guy of his stature could stoop to such lows and harm his country’s reputation for his meager personal gain. Can’t investigative journalists around the world look into Muhammad Yunus’ fraudulent actions?

This letter was printed in the prestigious US newspaper Washington Post as an advertisement, not a news item. This is paid content. A rough estimate places the price of this advertisement at $73,333 (78 lakh 14 thousand 584 taka). Why did the open letter from notables like Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Ban Ki Moon need to be distributed through expensive advertising? Why wasn’t it reported in the news? Why isn’t this letter available on other international leaders’ websites?

The letter also said Dr. Yunus did not make a profit from the Grameen phone. According to the information available, Grameen Phone, with a customer base of 28 million, yearly revenues of over $1 billion, and profits of several hundred million dollars, is by far the largest telecommunications provider in Bangladesh. So where did the country’s citizens’ money go? Why did he give Grameen shares to the Telenor Company, owned by the Norwegian government, without making a profit? What did it serve? The Norwegian government is well known for having a significant say in who receives the Nobel Prize. Therefore, did he accept the Nobel Prize while leaving a thriving company like Grameenphone without making a profit?

This is regrettable because international leaders occasionally attempt to exert pressure on the Bangladeshi administration without knowing the real facts in order to preserve their friendship. Due to the fact that they have not looked into the aforementioned crimes perpetrated by this Nobel laureate, Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, have a strong bias against Muhammad Yunus. It should be noted that Yunus-controlled organizations have formally given the Clinton Foundation between US$125,000 and US$300,000 in the past. We will never be able to determine how much Prof. Yunus paid the Clintons in exchange for the privileges they gave him.

In every civilized and democratic society where the rule of law is established, it is maintained that ‘nobody is above the law,” regardless of how powerful and big he or she may be. Yet in the instance of Dr. Mohammad Yunus, it might not be appropriate. Due to his friendships with powerful individuals from several nations, like the United States, France, and Germany, he doesn’t give a damn about the laws and regulations of Bangladesh. But we are aware that if the executives of well-known commercial enterprises or even the president or prime minister of those countries evade tax or commit corruption, action is taken under the law of that country. Many have extensive prison and fine records. But despite the clear evidence of irregularities and corruption, some world leaders are interested in supporting a person who was giving everything away, including undermining the prestige of the Nobel Prize, for his personal benefit. It is a real irony.

Bangladeshis hope that those who signed the letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will at least check into the accusations made against Prof. Yunus since they firmly feel that Western leaders failed to recognize his ugly face behind the mask.

Views expressed in this article are the author’s own

Kamal Uddin Mazumder

Kamal Uddin Mazumder, Security and strategic affairs analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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