x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Crown Prince donates Dh14m to release 15 prisoners

Fifteen Emirati prisoners jailed for financial crimes are to be freed for the 40th National Day.

DUBAI // Fifteen Emirati prisoners jailed for financial crimes have been added to a list of inmates to be freed for the 40th National Day.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, yesterday made a Dh14 million donation to Al Faraj fund, which was set up by the Ministry of Interior to help release 40 Emirati financial prisoners for the country's anniversary.

The Dh14m covers the debts of the 15 prisoners, who were jailed for crimes that included bouncing cheques and unpaid owings to banks.

Through the state news agency Wam, Sheikh Hamdan called on government bodies and private companies, as part of their social responsibility, to contribute and help to free other Emiratis.

He said only those who passed a tough criteria were put forward for release and stressed the move should not encourage people to take out large loans.

Maj Khalid Al Khuwaitir, a member of the fund committee studying the cases, said he hoped the initiative would help to raise enough money to free all Emirati prisoners with outstanding debts.

"Our aim is to be able to help all Emiratis with financial cases pay their debt, and we call on all organisations in the country to help to reach this objective," Maj Al Khuwaitir said, adding the scheme could be extended to expatriates.

The relief fund was set up by the ministry in 2009 to assist prisoners and their families. It studied dozens of cases of prisoners whose families campaigned for their release, or whose names were put forward by prison authorities or by the organisation to which they were indebted.

Eligible prisoners are those convicted in connection with a financial crime who did not have a criminal case registered against them.

"Initially we looked to select five people from each of the eight prisons in the country with debts below Dh100,000, but we realised that there are not enough Emiratis who fulfil this criteria so we pushed up the maximum amount," said Maj Al Khuwaitir.

Initially, 25 people with debts of a maximum of Dh800,000 received help. In the most recent batch, the debts for each prisoner were extended to more than Dh1m. The highest debt paid through the initiative was Dh1.6m.

A man aged 60 from Sharjah was among those who benefited from Sheikh Hamdan's donation. He had bounced cheques totalling more than Dh400,000 since 1994.

He rarely left his house and was arrested about three months ago.

"We studied his case and found that he only had his pension to live on and he had no means to pay his debt," said Maj Al Khuwaitir.

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, praised Sheikh Hamdan's donation.

"I hope no Emirati with financial cases has to stay in prison, apart from those who have repeated cases against them and those who have defrauded people," Lt Gen Tamim said.

Col Ahmed Al Saloomi, the warden of the Ras Al Khaimah prison, explained how prisoners were selected.

"We give the Ministry of Interior the files, which have the names, the history of the inmates and their current behaviour and manners," Col Al Saloomi said.

"Each case is studied carefully, for instance to see if it is a recurring pattern or not, and then those most deserving are pardoned."

Four of the 15 set to be released are prisoners from RAK.

"This is a time of forgiveness and there is a true celebratory spirit, and so everyone is doing their bit to reunite prisoners with their families," said Col Al Saloomi.

"Many will be beginning a new life as we celebrate our nation's birthday."


* With additional reporting by Rym Ghazal and Amna Al Haddad