Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus suffered a jolt after the High Court division of the Supreme Court in Bangladesh asked him to pay a tax of Taka 12 crores (Rs 9.26 crores) on money that he had gifted to three charitable trusts — Professor Muhammad Yunus Trust, Yunus Family Trust and Yunus Centre.
Yunus — recognised the world over for his efforts for social and economic improvements of the poor, especially women, through micro-credit and also regarded as the founder of the Grameen Bank — can appeal against the judgment in the appellate division of the apex court 60 days after receiving the copy of the order.
The judgment was in connection with three separate applications that Yunus had made challenging the tax liability imposed on him by the tax commissioner over his gift of Taka 76.63 crores (around Rs 59 crore) given in tranches, to the three trusts between 2010 and 2013. Earlier, Yunus had lost an appeal at the tax appellate tribunal, following which he deposited Taka 3 crores and moved the High Court.
“Our argument was that the gift does not come under the purview of the gift tax act and the Hon’ble bench concurred with our views,” A.M. Amin Uddin, the Bangladesh attorney-general, told The Telegraph over the phone.
Muhammad Yunus Sourced by The Telegraph
The government side has argued that the money was given to the trusts to “maintain his wife and daughters”. According to a source in the government legal team, he did not gift the money to his wife and daughters to evade the tax burden on them.
Sources in Dhaka, who are close to the Yunus camp, said that he is likely to contest the High Court order.
The 82-year-old, who has shown political aspirations in the past, and his supporters believe that the slew of cases, including the one on tax evasion, against him do not have any merit, a source said.
On Tuesday, the Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh filed a case against 13 members of the board of directors of Grameen Telecom, including Yunus, over allegations of embezzling money from workers.
Not only does he have charges on at least nine other tax-related cases, but recently the Supreme Court of Bangladesh gave the Labour Court in the country to continue some labour law violation cases against him in which he was accused by some Grameen Telecom employees that they were facing discrimination and violation in respect of their legal rights, guaranteed by provisions of Bangladesh Labour Code, 2006.
Multiple sources in Dhaka said that the High Court ruling against Yunus, whose differences with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is one of the most talked about issues in the country’s media, and the developments in other cases are good news for the ruling Awami League as these show him in poor light.
There is no love lost between the two sides as the Hasina administration believes that Yunus has used his connection in the western countries, especially the US, to defame Bangladesh and the Awami League government to settle scores with the ruling party for the Bangladesh Central Bank’s decision to remove him as head of Grameen Bank in 2011 for violating the country’s retirement age.
The bitterness reached a new height after an open letter to Hasina — signed by 40 world leaders — appeared as an advertisement in the Washington Post on March 7 in which “deep concerns” were expressed about the well-being of Yunus, who was the managing director of Grameen Bank.
The Awami League establishment considered it a conspiracy against Hasina ahead of the general election.
“He has always taken a moral high ground in front of his associates and friends in the West... Now that the cases against him are heard in the courts and some judgments are also going against him, it is likely to deal a blow to his image.
As some of these cases involve tax evasion and denial of labour rights, he also has to do a lot of explaining,” said a source in Dhaka.
Not everyone in Dhaka, however, thinks the same as some believe that the Yunus camp will use this verdict to draw sympathies from the US and other western countries and the Hasina regime will come under more pressure ahead of the general election.
Last week, the US state department announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh and said that it was aimed at ensuring a free and fair election process in the country.