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What happened with the money – Tom Heinemann

Dr. Mohammad Yunus- File Photo
by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury


(December 11, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Norwegian investigative journalist and film director, Tom Heinemann’s latest documentary on Dr. Mohammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank titled ‘Caught in Micro Credit Debt’ is now at the focal attention of media in Bangladesh and abroad.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate [2006], Dr. Yunus enjoys esteem internationally for his efforts of ‘sending poverty to museum’. Internationally community were continuing to believe that Dr. Yunus was lending money to rural poor people in Bangladesh, especially women, at a very comfortable interest.

Grameen Bank is receiving grants and loans from various international agencies on a regular basis. The highest amount of annual interest on any foreign loan that Grameen receives is 3 percent. While major segment of the foreign loans or grants are absolutely free of interest.

But, Dr. Mohammad Yunus is lending money to poor people at the rate ranging between 40-70 percent per year. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already termed Yunus as ‘bloodsucker of the poor’.

Dr. Mohammad Yunus and his bloodsucking show came into media couple of years back, when my newspaper, Weekly Blitz, published a number of investigative reports on him. One of our best investigative reporters, Zahid Al Amin, visited the Zobra village [which is claimed to be the model of ‘success story’ of Dr. Yunus and his Grameen Bank] a number of times, taking on-ground information as well photographs, to prove that, what Dr. Yunus and his Grameen Bank are claiming are nothing but mere white lies.

Dr. Muhammed Yunus and his Nobel prize winning Grameen Bank continues to project Jobra village and Sufia Begum as example of their excellent success stories to the international audience. Through such campaign, Dr. Muhammed Yunus has attained tremendous attention of the international community. He is by now known in the entire world as the 'pioneer' of micro credit, for which he got Nobel Peace prize few years back. Sufia Khatun is the first borrower of loan from Dr. Yunus's Grameen Bank. Her name has already crossed international boundaries of many countries, as Grameen Bank proudly pronounces her name as one of the brilliant success stories of their micro-credit loans. It is beyond knowledge of many that, almost one decade back, Sufia Begum died due to extreme poverty and lack of any minimum medical treatment. Though Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank claimed to have helped Sufia Begum in erecting her own building, in reality, she used to live in a almost broken hut, where her family members are living till now. The house, which is shown by Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank as Sufia's is actually owned by one Jabel Hussain who lives in Dubai [United Arab Emirates]. Jabel Hussain has instructed his relatives in Bangladesh to sue Dr. Yunus and Grameen bank if his house is ever shown as Sufia's in future.

Though we continued to publish series of reports on this broad-day fraud by Dr. Mohammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank, there had never been any comment or statement from them.

We also reported how Dr. Yunus took former US first lady [now Secretary of State], Hillary Rodham Clinton at Grameen Bank’s project situated at Rishi Palli at Moshihati in Bangladesh, and Yunus initiated a project named 'Hillary Adarsha' [Hillary Model] and started distributing loans to the locals. Although Hillary Clinton was given assurance of providing soft-term loan to the poor villagers, in reality, they [the villagers] were to pay 30-40 per cent interest. In years after the visit of Hillary Clinton, the entire village turned into a land of horror. Extreme poverty due to high interest charged by Dr. Yunus pushed them towards starvation, poverty and other social problems. Child marriage is very common in that village. A large number of females from the village ended up in local and neighboring brothels, which were virtually sold by parents due to poverty. Now, Hillary Model village has turned into a big joke to the locals and Bangladeshi people.

But, as usual, Mohammed Yunus has been successful in suppressing this fact from the attention of Ms. Clinton, and possibly fabricated some lies similar to that of Sufia Begum to entertain his friends in Democratic Party, which finally brought for him the highest civilian award in United States.

Due to continuous publication of reports in Weekly Blitz about Dr. Mohammad Yunus, we were contacted by many including Tom Heinemann, who made the latest documentary on Yunus and his Grameen Bank.

When the ‘Caught in Micro Credit Debt’ documentary came into focal point of many, Norwegian Minister for Environment and International Development Erik Solheim on December 8, 2010 issued a statement, which surely went in favor of Yunus. Following the publication of this statement, we contacted Norwegian journalist Tom Heinemann with several questions. Here are the excerpts:

Q: According to Press Release posted on the official website, Norwegian Minister for Environment and International Development Erik Solheim on Wednesday clarified that Grameen Bank had not embezzled the donor’s funds or used the money for unintended purposes.

Now, in your mentioned documentary, you specifically gave evidences of communication between Norwegian Embassy in Bangladesh and NORAD, where, the embassy stated that Grameen Bank fund was shifted to Grameen Kalyan, which an organization is even not known to Norwegian people. But, now, why the minister has given the new statement stating Grameen Bank had not used the donor's money for "unintended purposes"?

A: First of all: In the documentary, we do not state any where that the transferred money was or has been "misused" in any way. There seem to be a misunderstanding in some of the Bangladeshi media regarding this. And that is understandable, as I think that only a few Bangladeshi people understands or speaks Norwegian.

Second: We have not yet heard anything from NORAD regarding why they can state the above mentioned. To us the overall question is: What happened to the [around] 100 million NKK that was not returned to Grameen Bank after the heavy pressure from both Norad, The embassy and the Bangladeshi authorities - ERD [The External Resources Division].

Third: We have not obtained any written and spoken proof of what led to the compromise between Norway and Bangladesh regarding the "back-transfer" from Grameen Kalyan and Grameen Bank.

Fourth: We have not yet heard any word or written proof about the fact, as to why Mr. Soheim claimed in the Norwegian parliament that money from the Grameen Kalyan was spend on the flood-victims when in the Grameen Bank-statement does not mention this "fact" with one word. We ask - can both be right?

Conclusion:

We have never accused, neither said that the 608.50 million NKK, that was transferred from Grameen Bank to Grameen Kalyan was misused in any way. However, we ask - what happened with the money? We still need an answer to this question among many others.

e.g. why did the then Director of Norad, Tove Strand Gerhardsen, the ERD-division and Mr. Yunus agree keeping this story as a secret to the politicians and the public? No one has answered that question either!

Q: Norad’s report shows that Grameen Bank transferred a total of NOK 608.5 million to its sister company Grameen Kalyan in 1996. Norway’s share of this amount is estimated to be approximately NOK 170 million. The Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka reacted immediately when it discovered the transfer in 1997. In the embassy’s view, the transfer was not in accordance with the agreement. The matter was raised with Grameen Bank. Following negotiations, it was agreed in May 1998 that NOK 170 million was to be transferred back from Grameen Kalyan to Grameen Bank.

Now, following the latest statement from the minister, can we assume that, the Norwegian government is also trying to salvage the 'image' of Nobel laureate Dr. Yunus and his Grameen Bank? Or what could be the possible mystery behind this statement?

A: We can only guess - and that's not a journalistic tool I use.

What we do know is that around 100 million Norwegian kroner is not accounted for [read above]. And we do not know what happened with the donor money from Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden [among others].

Q: Wall Street Journal in its blog published an article by Parminder Bahra, titled 'Is Grameen Founder Mohammad Yunus a Bloodsucker of the Poor'. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also termed Yunus as a bloodsucker. Why the Norwegian minister is actively trying to defend this bloodsucker?

A: Speculations is another journalistic tool that I prefer not to use. I'm asking questions. And a couple would off course be to ask for comments on both parties.

Q: After the latest statement of the Norwegian minister, you have told Bangladeshi media in an interview that Grameen Bank did not refund all the money to NORAD.

You said, "The embassy and Norad reacted strongly [at] the time that the money was transferred in part to save tax. Grameen Bank is still using the tax argument when they are defending the transaction."

Can we know, how Dr. Yunus finally was able to manage in getting a statement from the Norwegian minister declaring Grameen Bank and Yunus as clean?

A: I haven't got a clue. Mr. Solheim should be addressed that question.

Q: On December 7 2010, Grameen Bank managing director M Shahjahan said that they had transferred the fund to 'save tax', but not to 'evade tax'.

But, it is already known to all that, Grameen Bank enjoys tax-free status. In this case, M. Shahjahan's statement is nothing but another attempt to suppress the gross irregularities inside this dubious bank.

Being a celebrated investigative journalist, are you going to investigate the mystery behind latest statement by the Norwegian minister defending Dr. Yunus?

A: First regarding the tax: Save or evade is not used in the documents. Mr. Yunus wrote to the embassy as to why he had transferred the money: "With gradual higher interest rate charged, [...] more and more money will have to be paid out as taxes in future..."

And the transfer was obviously not an item, that Mr. Yunus would like that the politicians and the public in Bangladesh should know of: ”If the people, within and outside government, who are not supportive of Grameen, get hold of this letter we’ll face real problems in Bangladesh.”

From there Norad stamped the documents "Confidential". Not even the two - the then responsible ministers [The MFA and the Minister of Development in Norway] were not even told.

We do not know if any politicians in Bangladesh knew the "case", but that question should be addressed to the ERD in Bangladesh.

Finally: I'm sure that both the NRK and the Norwegian press will find time to ask Mr. Solheim the question that you raise.
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