May 10, 2017 09:16 PM EDT
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WATCH | An update on Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s conversation with Hillary Clinton over Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ removal from Grameen Bank.
While secretary of state, Hillary Clinton made a personal call to pressure Bangladesh’s prime minister to aid a donor to her husband’s charitable foundation despite federal ethics laws that require government officials to recuse themselves from matters that could impact their spouse’s business.
The Office of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina confirmed to Circa that Mrs. Clinton called her office in March 2011 to demand that Dr. Muhammed Yunus, a 2006 Nobel Peace prize winner, be restored to his role as chairman of the country’s most famous microcredit bank, Grameen Bank. The bank’s nonprofit Grameen America, which Yunus chairs, has given between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative. Grameen Research, which is chaired by Yunus, has donated between $25,000 and $50,000, according to the Clinton Foundation website.
“Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in March 2011 insisting her not to remove Dr. Muhammad Yunus from the post of Managing Director of Grameen Bank,” Deputy Press Secretary Md Nazrul Islam told Circa in an email.
Islam said the prime minister informed Mrs. Clinton that according to Grameen Bank rules and regulations, nobody can hold the position of the Managing Director of Grameen Bank after the age of 60. He was 70 at the time of his removal and had wrangled for months to no avail with the prime minister over his removal.
According to the Bangladesh government, Grameen Bank is part of a statutory body of the government and therefore is subject to the banking laws, saying they told Clinton “Dr. Yunus drew salaries and allowances illegally for 10 years.”
A commission set up by the Bangladesh government also began investigating Grameen Bank in 2012 for financial mismanagement.
Yunus did not return calls seeking comment. But he has long denied any wrongdoing and suggested his ouster was the result of internal politics — he considered creating a rival political party in 2007 but ended up not doing so.
In a 2013 interview, Yunus said he feared his ouster would put the bank he founded to help millions of impoverished people with microcredit — small loans that are often unsecured by assets but have higher interest rates — under too much government control and alter its mission.
“It will be a disaster,” he said at the time. “Everybody in Bangladesh knows that if any business is controlled by the government, it goes down. Now why do they want to do that for the bank?
“Attack me as a person if you don’t like me, but what wrong has the bank done? The bank is owned by the poor women, it is financed with their deposits,” he added. “The bank should be under the control of those women. That’s the way I had always wanted to keep it.”
Mrs. Clinton’s newly disclosed call to reinstate Dr. Yunus marks one of the most direct involvements in an official government matter that impacted one of her husband’s donors. It may trigger new calls for a criminal investigation into the foundation’s activities but “it’s not likely that anything would come of it,” said Richard Painter, former Chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.
“People in public life shouldn’t be raising money from anybody, anywhere, or for anything,” Painter said. “But until we fix the campaign finance system this is the way it’s going to be.”
Painter, who supported Clinton during her campaign for president, said that there is little if any evidence that she crossed any legal lines regarding the Clinton Foundation. He said favoritism to somebody giving money to campaign is often and frequent in Washington D.C. politics and “if that were the case we’d be investigating the entire U.S. Congress.”
“This shows the Clinton’s insensitivity to the public’s anger and lack of judgement when they expanded the fundraising beyond politics,” said Painter, who said people in public office should not be raising money.
But opponents of Mrs. Clinton, including President Trump before the election, have made calls for a criminal investigation into the foundation and whether there was a pay-for-play, in which they donors allegedly received favors from the State Department during her tenure from 2009-2013.
The Associated Press reported in August, that at least 85 of 154 “people from private interests who met or had phone conversations with Clinton while she led the State Department donated to her family charity” or pledged to donate to one of her international programs.
While Mrs. Clinton was at the State Department she also voted to approve 20 percent sale of U.S. uranium production capacity to the Russian Atomic Energy Agency. The company donated $2.5 million to the Clinton Foundation while the deal was ongoing and before the deal was finalized President Bill Clinton was invited to Moscow and given $500,000 for a speech.
And when it came to Yunus, declassified cables show that Mr. Yunus sought to use Mrs. Clinton’s power as secretary of state to pressure the Bangladesh government.
In 2009, Dr. Yunus sent a personal email to then Secretary of State Clinton’s office asking for intervention into the Bangladesh bank and stated his concerns, according to a declassified WikiLeaks cable.
Those declassified cables show the U.S. ambassador also raised the issue with government officials prior to Mrs. Clinton’s call and that Mrs. Clinton asked State officials to alert her husband to the problems Yunus was having with Bangladesh.
“Please see if the issues of Grameen Bank can be raised in a friendly way,” the email from Yunus to then Clinton advisor Melanne Verveer stated. “I sought an appointment with the Prime Minister to brief her on our problems, at the advice of the U.S. Ambassador in Dhaka.”
Yunus received the Medal of Freedom in 2009, from President Obama, for his work in aiding the 150 million poor families receive financing and business loans through his microfinance program at the bank.
“Almost every important person in Bangladesh congratulated me for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” he states in the cable. “But the Prime Minister and her party said not a word about it, so you can see the depth of the problem,” Yunus wrote in the cable to Verveer, who now is the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University. “I thought I should keep you briefed and let you figure out what to be done. Thanks for your help,” Yunus wrote to Verveer in 2009. Verveer could not be reached for comment.
Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Prime Minister Hasina, and a permanent U.S. resident, says that between 2010 and 2012, he was repeatedly pressured to ask his mother to end the investigation into Mr. Yunus, and threatened with an audit or other action if he did not comply.
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WATCH | In an interview with Circa News, Wazed claims that Clinton State Department employees pressured him to talk with his mother, the prime minister, and get her to end the investigation into Yunus. He has no documentation to back up this claim.
“At two instances during those conversations they brought up the fact that, ‘look, there could be many actions taken against your country, your mother, your family, who knows, you could get audited by the IRS, since you live in the U.S.,” said Wazed, who has been making the allegations for over five years.
The allegations by Wazed have not been independently confirmed by Circa, and he has no documentation to back up his statement. Requests for comment on both Wazed’s claims and response to Prime Minister Hasina’s statement have not been returned by Secretary Clinton, her representatives, or the Clinton Foundation.
Follow Sara Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC