At the moment, Firoz Merchant is busy personally interviewing more prisoners to make the next list for 2017.

The story of Firoz Merchant, chairman of Pure Gold Group, is one of rags to riches. The man, now a business tycoon, was born to a poor family with nine siblings, in Gujarat. Merchant joined his late father’s small real-estate business after dropping out from school when he was 11.

And in his quest for attaining riches, Merchant has not forgotten the needy. Till date, he has helped in securing the release of 4,500 prisoners languishing in various jails by clearing their debts. Now he plans to enhance the amount devoted for philanthropy to $1 million and bail out thousands more from not just UAE jails, but the wider GCC region.

qatar airways

At the moment, Firoz Merchant is busy personally interviewing more prisoners to make the next list for 2017.

“My first priority is to help prisoners in the UAE jails. Once this issue is properly addressed, I plan to look at other countries in the region. This year, $1 million is 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,” said Merchant, whose office has been bombarded with requests for help.

While majority of the prisoners are male earning members, he has come across some women and kids, too.

More pleas for help

After bailing out more than 4,500 expatriate prisoners, he is looking at releasing around 500 more prisoners from the Northern Emirates and start looking at helping prisoners in other GCC countries.

And in the next few weeks, at least 200 more prisoners each from Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain will be going home, as free human beings – thanks to Merchant’s noble deed.

About 200 fresh appeals for help land in his secretary’s mailbox each day. But Merchant is very selective and seeks guidance of jail authorities in selecting the beneficiaries. He, however, has not come across many Gujarati prisoners, says he. There are thousands of villagers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“We clear their financial liabilities and ensure that each released prisoner gets Dh100 equivalent of foreign currency to reach home safely using public transport system.” His office also arranges for a plane ticket to the nearest airport to prisoner’s home country.

Once they are released from jail there is no contact with them, says Merchant, as they will all be busy in their own small world.

Since the 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. Even after completing jail terms, many prisoners have  not been able to go home due to lack of a plane ticket,” he said.

Association with charity bodies

Merchant has been supporting the Red-Crescent Society, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charitable Foundation, Dar Al Ber Society, Bait Al Khair Society, Jamiya Asarika Al Khaliya (Sharjah Charity International), UAE Genetic diseases Association, Breast Cancer Control, Faraj fund, Ministry of Education UAE, Ministry of Health UAE and Zakat Fund Abu Dhabi, among others.

Rags to riches

As a child, Merchant went through some testing times. His father Gulam Hussain, a real-estate broker and a man of principles, found it hard to make both ends meet as his business always did not do well. Merchant soon had to quit school and join his father. His mother Malekbai was a housewife.

His childhood experiences taught him to feel and think and do something for the needy, he said.

Merchant considers his father his role model. He taught him about hard work, enterprise and optimism, said Merchant. Equipped with his experience in real-estate, a young Merchant came to Dubai in the 1980s and started working as a gold broker. His hardwork paid off and soon, with nothing but moral support from his family, he established Pure Gold, a reputed retail jewellery.

Today, Pure Gold Group is a large retail business with a presence in 11 countries – the UAE, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, France, India, Sri Lanka and Singapore – and boasts of 125 modern retail outlets.

Philanthropy in different languages

Even though a school dropout, Merchant can speak several languages and personally interviews the inmates before finalising his list. His task does not end there; he makes sure the prisoner reunites with his or her family.

“It is an initiative to help fellow human beings. I want other rich businessmen to follow. Out of the prisoners bailed out, none of my employees are involved,” says a content Merchant.

“My employees get paid on the first or second day of the month. In case they have problems, we try to solve it for them.  And if there is an  emergency or personal celebration like a marriage we give them a helping hand. We have more than 3,000 employees worldwide and they are all taken care of.”

According to Merchant, many prisoners were not paid on time.

“I have  been getting hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and requests from people. Some come directly to my office seeking help. The crisis intensified in 2008.