4,500 and still counting: Dubai gold tycoon bails prisoners out
06 Feb 2017 - 23:39
The Peninsula Online
Gujarat-born Firoz Merchant, chairman of Dubai’s Pure Gold Group, parted a chunk of his wealth for a rare cause: So far he has bailed out more than 4500 prisoners who were rotting in UAE jails.
"My priority is to help prisoners in the UAE jails. I plan to look at other countries in the region. This year, $1 million has been earmarked to bail out more prisoners from the UAE jails and in the next few weeks, a few hundred more prisoners will be released from Ajman, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujiarah," Khaleej Times quoted Mr Merchant as saying.
Born to a struggling family with nine siblings Merchant joined his late father Gulam Hussain's small real estate business at the age of 11, quitting school. His mother, Malekbai, was a housewife. The young Merchant brought along his real-estate experience in India to Dubai in the 1980s and thrived in gold brokerage. Soon, he set up Pure Gold, a retail business. Today, Pure Gold Group has presence in 11 countries - the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, India, Sri Lanka and Singapore with 125 outlets, Khaleej Times reports.
Every day, about 200 fresh appeals flood his secretary's mailbox. But Merchant is choosy. He acts upon jail authorities’ advice.
He hardly come across Gujarati prisoners. Large chunk of beneficiaries belonged to villages in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Majority of them are male earning members while few of them are women and kids.
He clears their financial liabilities. Each released prisoner gets an equivalent of around Dh100 foreign currency to reach home using public transport. His office also arranges for a plane ticket to the nearest airport.
At the moment, Mr Merchant is busy interviewing prisoners to make the next list for 2017. Since New Year, Merchant has been busy arranging for the release of 132 prisoners from the Ajman Central Jail - paying of their dues, clearing pending school or college fees, hospital bills, and arranging return tickets.
"Don't break the rules. One silly mistake can lead to hundreds of other mistakes and individuals can end up in jail for silly reasons,” this was his advice to expats.
“Even after jail terms, many prisoners have not been able to go home for want of a plane ticket," he says.
A school dropout, Merchant can speak several languages and personally interview the inmates. His task ends when the prisoner reunites with his family.