American-Israeli businessman and philanthropist Guma Aguiar was cleared last week of embezzlement charges, brought before a Florida court by his uncle, who claims he misused funds because he believed he was the messiah. Aguiar, who recently made a name for himself by donating several million dollars to Nefesh B'Nefesh and other Jewish organizations, denies believing he is the messiah, calling his uncle's accusations absurd. He is currently in the United States and does not give interviews to the press.
Aguiar, 31, who was born in Brazil but commutes between the U.S. and Jerusalem, is the founder and chairman of the Lillian Jean Kaplan Foundation, to which his uncle, Thomas S. Kaplan, claims to have donated "tens of millions of dollars," according to official court documents. In the lawsuit, Kaplan challenged Aguiar's ability and right to manage the foundation, but the judge, Robert Rosenberg of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Broward County, Florida, threw out the case, finding Kaplan's claims had no merit.
Kaplan objected to the more than $7 million he says his nephew spent in 2008 to advance what the lawsuit called his "claim that he is the Messiah and to promote his messianic mission," according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which reported about the lawsuit when it was filed in January. According to the paper, the family feud is likely rooted in a separate lawsuit involving the two. The second case involves the company the two founded, Leor Exploration & Production, which was sold for about $2.5 billion after discovering vast natural gas reserves in Texas, and which is the foundation of Aguiar's newfound wealth.
"Justice has been done in Florida, the impact of which will be felt globally as Guma Kaplan Aguiar continues to support vital programs in the U.S., Israel and throughout the world," Charley Levine, Aguiar's spokesman in Jerusalem, said about last week's decision. He added that while the second lawsuit is still ongoing, "we have all the reason to believe it will end with similar results."
Aguiar, who made headlines this month about possibly purchasing the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, is not giving his legal team much rest. Besides dealing with two lawsuits and a soccer club in financial straits, he is also going after bloggers he feels are defaming him. In May, Aguiar's lawyer Eitan Gabay wrote a letter to an American-Israeli blogger who questioned Aguiar's motives for leading a Jewish life. Aguiar has acknowledged publicly that while he was born a Jew, his parents raised him as an Evangelical Christian from the age of two.
"Written material in the blog is evidence of a serious violation of the prohibition of 'lashon harah' (libel) and harassment," stated the letter, which was posted on the Web and confirmed by Aguiar's spokesman, adding that some statements on the site "border on defamation" and "infringement of privacy." The letter continued by stating that Aguiar considering filing a police complaint and a lawsuit if the blogger didn't immediately delete the contentious posts.
The blogger, an Orthodox rabbi, reacted by quickly deleting all entries dealing with Aguiar's past. "I am simply not in the position that I can afford to be hounded by a billionaire," he told Anglo File last month.
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