WASHINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Muhammad Yunus on Tuesday in a gesture of support as the State Department voiced concern about the Bangladeshi government’s effort to remove him from Grameen Bank, the microfinance lender he founded.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton spoke to the Nobel laureate on Tuesday afternoon, when he was due to see her in person in Washington but canceled his visit because of the legal challenge to his role at the lender.
A Bangladeshi court on Tuesday upheld an order removing Yunus as head of Grameen Bank, a move allies say was prompted by a government vendetta over his political ambitions.
Bangladesh’s central bank ordered Yunus, 70, out of Grameen’s top post on the grounds that the legal retirement age at commercial banks is 60.
Grameen under Yunus helped pioneer microfinance in which small loans are made to poor and small-scale entrepreneurs who would not qualify for traditional bank loans as a way to fight poverty.
“We are troubled by the letter that the (central bank) sent to the Grameen Bank concerning Dr. Yunus’ status as managing director,” Crowley told reporters at his daily briefing.
“We continue to follow developments closely and await clarification from the government of Bangladesh and Grameen Bank,” he added. “We hope that a mutually satisfactory compromise can be achieved that will ensure Grameen Bank’s autonomy and effectiveness.”
Crowley said that Clinton planned to telephone Yunus “both to show support for his ongoing efforts and the efforts of the Grameen Bank and also to express our concern about developments in Bangladesh.” He later confirmed that the call took place.
Lauded abroad by politicians and financiers, Yunus has been under attack by the government since late 2010, after a Norwegian documentary alleged the bank was dodging taxes.
Yunus has denied any financial irregularities during his tenure atop Grameen since 2000. On Monday, he said the government’s allegations against him were “not true” and that Bangladesh’s politicians aimed to take over the bank.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman