Firoz Merchant visits Ajman Central Jail to secure the release of the first batch of 132 expats who landed behind bars over unpaid debts. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: An Indian businessman who operates a number of gold jewellery shops in the UAE has pledged $1 million  (Dh3.6 million) to pay off the debts of expatriates who have landed in jail.

Firoz Merchant, founder and chairman of Pure Gold Jewellers, has recently visited the Ajman Central Jail to help secure the release of the first batch of 132 prisoners whose combined borrowings worth Dh150,000 were settled.

Each prisoner was also provided an air ticket and extra money to cover the transportation expenses  once they  reach their home country.

The first batch of prisoners who have been freed are expatriates from Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen, Oman and Ghana. The jewellery trader had allocated Dh30,000 per person to secure the release of the borrowers.

“These prisoners are victims of circumstances and are not real criminals. They are in jail because of debt. That is why I decided to pay off their debts and provide for air tickets so that they can go back to their countries and be reunited with their families,” Merchant said on Wednesday.

“Whatever support we provided them is according to the UAE laws, and in consultation with the official authorities. I do not follow direct requests from prisoners or their families. We take care of only those applications that are forwarded by the prison authorities. Each case is evaluated and recommended by the authorities,” Merchant added.

A number of expatriates in the UAE have ended up behind bars for failure to repay their debts. Reports of foreign workers defaulting on loan payments and credit card borrowings were prevalent during the global recession.

Merchant said those who have been assisted are expatriates who accumulated debts because of a job loss, business downturn or other reasons beyond their control. The $1 million he pledged this year, which is part of the businessman’s ‘Forgotten Society’ programme, will secure the release of several other expatriates who are still in prison.

 “Since 2008 the [initiative] has aimed at helping insolvent prisoners. We have secured the release of more than 4,500 such prisoners and we have renewed our commitment this year with a larger budget.”

Merchant’s charity programme is also in line with the UAE’s year of Giving initiative that encourages everyone to do whatever they can to help the less fortunate.

The businessman said he hopes that other players in the UAE’s business community will also follow his example and help more expatriates get out of their “unfortunate financial circumstances.”