India

SPS Oberoi: The Indian businessman who saved 17 lives

Surinder Pal Singh Oberoi with 17 Indian nationals he helped free Image copyright Press Trust of India
Image caption Surinder Pal Singh Oberoi (middle) with the men he helped free

Who is the man who paid $1m (£645,000) as "blood money" to secure the release of 17 Indian nationals who were on death row for killing a Pakistani man in the United Arab Emirates?

Surinder Pal Singh Oberoi, 57, is a Dubai-based businessman from a small town in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

He came to Dubai in 1980 as a mechanic, returned to India after a year to launch a family business, and then returned to the emirate to start his own company.

Mr Oberoi is well known for his charity work.

Over the years, he says, he has put in his own money and collected donations worth $2.2m (£1.4m) to pay "blood money" to secure the release of 54 Indians - including the 17 men freed recently - sentenced to death for various crimes in the emirate.

To secure the recent release of 17 men, he paid $1m out of his own pocket, he says. The men returned to India on Tuesday.

'Messiah'

"He's our messiah. If he didn't come into our lives, we would have been all dead," says Kuldeep Singh, 28, one of the convicted men, who has now returned to his native village in Punjab.

The 2009 murder of the Pakistani man in Sharjah, an emirate just north of Dubai, took place after a dispute over control of an illegal alcohol business.

About 50 people were involved in the fatal attack in which the Pakistani man was stabbed repeatedly.

The Indians, who had gone to the emirate for work, were found guilty and sentenced to death in March 2010.

For the last two years, Mr Oberoi has been paying "blood money" to the relatives of the victim to secure the release of all the men.

"The family of the victim had demanded much more, but after negotiations they brought it down to $1m," he says.

"It is a lot of money. But don't assume that I am very rich. On the contrary 90% of my earnings go into charity or donations. I believe I don't need a lot of money to survive."

The website of Mr Oberoi's Apex Group of Companies mentions that it has interests in engineering, food and construction.

Clearly, he has come a long way after training as a mechanic in his home town of Nangal in Punjab.

Mr Oberoi was embroiled in controversy last year when Indian authorities began a probe into allegations that he was avoiding taxes and violating India's foreign exchange rules.

The businessman denies the allegations.

"Why should I spend so much money to save a few thousand dollars of tax?" he says.

Mr Oberoi plans to carry on with his "mission" to save the lives of Indians on death row in UAE.

"It has become my hobby," he says. "People now identify me as the person [who can save lives]. I can't let them down."

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