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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Erstwhile Laureate Summit Sponsor Sued

WASHINGTON (CN) - After relocating its summit of Nobel Peace laureates to Spain, the Fulbright Association wants damages from the organizer it says butted heads with the mayor of Atlanta.

Held every year since 1999, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates is an annual meeting that brings together living Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The permanent secretariat for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates hosts the event and determines where the event will take place each year.

When the permanent secretariat awarded the 2015 summit to Atlanta, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported local businessman Mohammad Bhuiyan was tapped to organize the event on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus.

Fulbright notes in a Oct. 6 complaint against Bhuiyan and his organization, Yunus Creative Labs, that they received $25,000 in a sponsorship agreement for the summit.

Though Fulbright was set to promote the summit and scrounge up volunteers to work it and attend its events, the event never got off the ground, according to the complaint in D.C. Superior Court.

Publishing letters exchanged between Bhuiyan and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta news outlets reported that the pair fought over how to organize the summit and to spend the money, leading the mayor to suggest Bhuiyan hire a Chicago public-relations firm to help plan the event.

Bhuiyan apparently bristled at this suggestion, accusing Reed in a March 24 letter of trying to force the committee to hire his "friend."

Reed responded on March 26 that Bhuiyan's own advisers had recommended a new governance structure for the event.

"Not surprisingly, you rejected this common sense recommendation in favor of continuing the current governance structure in which you serve as the event chief executive officer with your wife, Shamima Amin, as your chief operating officer," Reed wrote. "The potential for an actual conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict here, seems to be obvious to everyone but you. "

Reed pulled the city's support for the summit on March 19 and demanded Bhuiyan stop using the city's logo on its website.

Bhuiyan insisted his group was using a competitive bidding process to get sponsors, vendors and organizers for the event, and disputed the mayor's implications that other people involved in the Summit held concerns about the event's organization and fundraising, Atlanta's NBC affiliate reported, citing yet another letter.

"From the beginning, and in accordance with the principles established by Prof. Yunus, we have sought to raise, spend and account for all funds for the Summit in a careful and fully transparent manner," Bhuiyan reportedly wrote on March 24. "Our RFP process is fundamental to that transparency. We have chosen to base our procurement process on principle rather than politics."

Bhuiyan has also reportedly threatened to sue the city for damaging his name.

The Fulbright Association meanwhile notes that Yunus resigned the board of Yunus Creative Labs on April 7, less than a month after Reed pulled the city's support for the summit.

Yunus thought the organization was misrepresenting his views on the summit to the press, according to an Atlanta Business Chronicle article cited in the complaint.

The complaint says three more Yunus board members dropped out a month later, citing conflicts with Bhuiyan.

Bhuiyan's goals of hosting the Summit in Atlanta were all but dashed between May 2 and May 3, when the Working Meeting of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates gave the Atlanta team one week to come up with a solution.

The solution never came and the permanent secretariat awarded the 2015 Summit to Barcelona instead, according to the complaint.

Fulbright says it tried to recover its sponsorship fee in July 10 letter to Bhuiyan. A lawyer for Yunus Creative Labs responded and told Fulbright the nonprofit was "investigating the facts and circumstances relating to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates," according to the complaint.

Months later, Fulbright says it still has not received its money.

Fulbright seeks $100,000 from Yunus Creative Labs and Bhuiyan, claiming that he knew the summit was not going to take place when he convinced Fulbright to sponsor the event.

Torsten Kract of Hunton & Williams in Washington represents the Fulbright Association and did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither Yunus Creative Labs nor Bhuiyan could not be reached for comment, and no counsel is listed as representing either party.

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