Indian businessman pays Dh1 million to free 700 UAE prisoners

Firoz Merchant of Pure Gold retail group makes the gesture to mark UAE National Day and the Year of Tolerance

Since 2008, Dubai-based Indian philanthropist Firoz Merchant has helped over 15,000 prisoners reunite with their families. Courtesy: Firoz Merchant
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An Indian jewellery tycoon has paid Dh1 million to clear the debt of 700 prisoners in the UAE and pay for their passage home.

Firoz Merchant, founder and chairman of retailer Pure Gold Group, said the gesture was intended to mark the 48th UAE National Day and the Year of Tolerance.

The businessman's offer of Dh1m is part of a programme he founded in 2008 called the "Forgotten Society".

The initiative aims to give prisoners in debt a second chance, allowing them to be freed and return to their home countries.

Mr Merchant works with officials to identify the most pressing cases of inmates who have completed their sentences but cannot be released until their debt is paid.

“The UAE is home to people of various cultures and religions, and the country has given hope and second chances to many,” said Mr Merchant.

"This is the Year of Tolerance, so we are extending our support so that they can be reunited with their loved-ones.

“The insolvent prisoners being released are from different nationalities, regardless of their religion.”

On this occasion, the inmates being released are from more than 30 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia and Thailand.

About 150 prisoners are from the Ajman jail and 160 from Fujairah. The remaining prisoners will be released from prisons in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain.

Mr Merchant, a self-made millionaire, has lived in the UAE since 1989 and was granted permanent residency earlier this year.

He was one of the select group of investors, entrepreneurs and researchers presented with a Golden Card to honour their contribution to the nation.

Writing for The National last year, Mr Merchant wrote how his own impoverished upbringing had helped him understand the difficulties faced by those dealing with financial hardship.

He said his inspiration for the initiative was the benevolence of the late Sheikh Zayed, the nation’s Founding Father.

Major General Sheikh Sultan bin Abdullah Al Nuaimi, commander-in-chief of Ajman Police, said the money given by Mr Merchant demonstrated a strong sense of social responsibility.

“The support Pure Gold Group has given [inmates] enhances the spirit of solidarity and cohesion and helps them integrate back into society to build a new and dignified life,” he said.