Telenor threatened with lawsuit in Bangladesh

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus is threatening legal proceedings against Norwegian telecom operator Telenor to force it to transform their joint Bangladeshi subsidiary into a 'social business' aimed at helping the poor, an AFP report said.

'The recent activities (of GrameenPhone) in Bangladesh leave me with little alternative other than to investigate the possibility of taking legal action to protect the interests of the millions of poor people in Bangladesh,' Yunus said, quoted by the AFP report.

The poor would be 'the ultimate beneficiaries' if the country's largest mobile phone operator 'comes under Bangladeshi ownership and management to become a company with social objectives,' he added.

Telenor owns 62% of GrameenPhone, while Yunus' Grameen Bank holds a 38% stake through a subsidiary. Yunus shared with his bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for creating a micro-credit system for people too poor to qualify for bank loans.

While the split works for Telenor, which largely controls Bangladesh's leading mobile operator, Yunus, dubbed 'the banker of the poor,' is far from happy with the arrangement, the AFP report said.

The Bangladeshi economist said he was considering launching legal proceedings against Telenor to force it to honour a deal dating back to 1996 that would hand control of GrameenPhone to his bank, the report added.

Following a number of recent revelations of deplorable conditions for employees, including children as young as 13, working for GrameenPhone suppliers, Yunus has lambasted Telenor, accusing it of being insensitive and inefficient in improving conditions.

Yunus is determined to turn the Bangladeshi mobile operator into a 'social business' that reinvests its profits in domestic social projects instead of handing out cash to shareholders.

Telenor's state owners meanwhile appeared reluctant to get involved, the AFP report further said.

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