'Victims of misfortune': Dubai jeweller donates Dh1.5 million to free 900 prisoners ahead of Ramadan

'These aren't hardened criminals,' says Pure Gold businessman Firoz Merchant who has helped release 20,000 debt-ridden inmates over the last 16 years


Mazhar Farooqui

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Firoz Merchant, founder of Pure Gold Jewellers. Photo: Supplied
Firoz Merchant, founder of Pure Gold Jewellers. Photo: Supplied

Published: Mon 4 Mar 2024, 1:54 PM

Last updated: Tue 5 Mar 2024, 11:57 AM

For nearly four years, a man has been jailed over a debt of Dh1,100, another for Dh5,300, and yet another for around Dh15,000, dating back to 2019. However, there is a glimmer of hope for these men languishing in UAE prisons.

In a heartfelt pre-Ramadan gesture, Dubai-based Indian businessman and philanthropist Firoz Merchant, founder of Pure Gold Jewellers, has pledged Dh1.5 million to secure their release, along with 900 other prisoners.

In an interview to Khaleej Times, Merchant said, “Many generously contribute to education or healthcare causes, yet few spare a thought for those trapped behind bars. These individuals aren't hardened criminals but rather victims of misfortune, unable to fulfil financial obligations due to circumstances beyond their control. They belong to a marginalised segment of society, deserving of redemption and a fresh start. My initiative aims to provide exactly that.”

Through his Forgotten Society initiative, established in 2008, the 66-year-old jeweller seeks not only to settle their debts but also provide them with airfare to return home and reunite with their families.

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Over the past 16 years, Merchant has tirelessly worked to secure the release of over 20,000 prisoners, collaborating closely with police directors at central jails nationwide. Reflecting on his efforts, Merchant recalls one particularly poignant case that left a lasting impact.

"A few years ago, the director general of Dubai jail brought to my attention the case of an Indian labourer. While working on an under-construction building, he accidentally dropped a hammer, resulting in the tragic death of another person. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and ordered to pay Dh70,000 in blood money to the victim's family—an amount he could never hope to afford. Unable to pay the money, he found himself trapped in prison, feeling as though his life had come to a halt, destined to spend the rest of his days behind bars."

Merchant immediately decided to intervene. “I cleared the man's debts and told him he was going home. He couldn't believe me when I met him in jail,” said Merchant, who also gave him an extra Dh3,000 to shop for his family. “Many years later, he called my office and invited me to his daughter’s wedding. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend due to prior commitments. I offered to contribute some money, but he graciously declined.”

From rags to riches

Originally from Mumbai, Firoz's upbringing was marked by hardship, living with ten others in a cramped house in one of Mumbai's most overcrowded slums. Forced to forego formal education due to financial constraints, Firoz found guidance and inspiration from his father, who became his mentor.

Together, they navigated poverty, with Firoz eventually joining his father as a real estate broker. Through hard work, their situation gradually improved, paving the way for a brighter future.

In 1980, Firoz's life changed when he married Rosina from Mumbai. Their honeymoon in Dubai sparked Firoz's determination to start a jewellery business. In 1989, seizing the opportunity, Firoz obtained a visit visa to Dubai and began his journey. Learning about lease rates and obtaining a license, he established Pure Gold Jewellery. Today, it boasts over 150 stores across 12 countries.

Social contributions

Merchant expressed his gratitude for the opportunity to collaborate with UAE government authorities, emphasising his indebtedness to Lt General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, for entrusting him with this important work.

Recently, Ma'an, Abu Dhabi Government's official platform for receiving social contributions, said that they received a donation of Dh600,000 from Merchant this year to support their Inmates' Humanitarian Cases Project, which focuses on the welfare of prisoners.

Fatema Al Marzooqi, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Volunteering at the Authority of Social Contribution – Ma'an, expressed gratitude for Merchant's contribution, emphasising how it aligns with their objectives and the spirit of the Holy Month. .

Merchant said his inspiration throughout the years has been his late parents and their values and support to society. “The Forgotten Society initiative strives to reunite individuals with their families and communities in their home countries,” he explained,” ‘regardless of the prisoner's gender, nationality, or religion, because we believe in the inherent worth of every human being."


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