Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus indicted in Bangladesh embezzlement case

FILE PHOTO: Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus gestures in front of the court after being sentenced for six months of imprisonment, in Dhaka

By Ruma Paul

DHAKA (Reuters) - Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and 13 others were indicted by a Bangladesh court on Wednesday on charges of embezzlement of 252.2 million taka ($2 million) from the workers' welfare fund of his telecoms company.

Yunus, 83, and his Grameen Bank won the 2006 Nobel Peace prize for work to lift millions out of poverty by granting tiny loans of under $100 to the rural poor of Bangladesh, pioneering a global movement now known as microcredit.

The prosecution accuses Yunus and the others of embezzling 252.2 million taka from the welfare fund of Grameen Telecom, which owns a 34.2% stake in Grameenphone, the country's largest mobile phone company and a subsidiary of Norway's telecom giant Telenor. They are also accused of money laundering.

Yunus denied any involvement in corruption, telling reporters that he and his coworkers were being harassed by the authorities.

Special Judge Syed Arafat Hossain dismissed petitions seeking the charges to be dropped, saying the prosecution had preliminarily demonstrated the misappropriation of funds and the illegal money transfers abroad.

The trial will begin on July 15, he said.

In January, Yunus was sentenced to six months in prison for violations of labour law, which he denied.

Although he is not in prison after securing bail in that case, Yunus faces more than 100 cases regarding the violations and graft accusations, which he said in an interview with Reuters last week was "very flimsy, made-up stories".

During the interview, Yunus said Bangladesh had turned into a "one-party" state as the ruling party stamps out political competition. The government denied his allegations on the cases and the style of rule.

($1 = 117.0000 taka)

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Alison Williams)