Ongoing litigation stalls distribution of Hemlani family fortune - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Ongoing litigation stalls distribution of Hemlani family fortune

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It's a complex case of family members feuding over a fortune that was never really intended to go to them. Instead, the millions in assets are supposed to go to a variety of local and off-island charities. The philanthropists in question are P.D. and Radhi Hemlani, who came to Guam in the 1950s.

They ran their business from a modest shop in Hagatna that sells fabrics and floral arrangements.  It belies the fact that the founders were millionaires, many times over.  The couple amassed their fortune mainly through property investments.  You may remember the old flea market in Harmon?  That was theirs.

A familiar building across from the Micronesia Mall in Dededo was also theirs, along with dozens of other holdings in Guam, the Northern Marianas and Hong Kong, according to court documents.

P.D., the husband, passed away in 2004.  His wife Radhi died in 2013.  Court documents indicate they left behind assets of at least $10 million dollars - possibly more.

In 1997 the couple drew-up an estate plan, creating a trust to provide income during their lives, but also to distribute their remaining fortune to charity when they died. It's been two years now since the last of the pair passed away, but the litigation continues over control and distribution of their assets. There have also been allegations and counter-allegations of how certain relatives have diverted millions of dollars from the trust over the years.

One of the accusers was Jack Hemlani, the adopted son, and only child of P.D. and Radhi.  He admits to having differences with his parents over the years, in fact he was excluded from his late father's will, and lost a court challenge. No matter, he insists. In this specific case he has nothing at stake. He said he just wants the charitable distributions to proceed without further delay, and what he calls "the looting" - to stop.

It has been his contention that the attorney general is responsible for protecting the interests of charitable trusts like the one his parent's established. "It's wrong to allow those people who are looting the trust, and get away at the expense of the people of Guam and the CNMI.  You know, my parents set up this trust for charity and that's all gone down the drain, and goes into, you know, a individual pocket. Who is supposed to protect it? If not the AG, then you tell me who. Or let the AG come and tell me who's supposed to protect it.  You can't have a crime and the authorities just stand around and don't do anything. this is what I don't understand," he said.

He refers back to June of last year, and a letter from former AG Lenny Rapadas to one of the attorneys involved in the case.  Rapadas wrote that his office had determined that the trust set up by the Hemlanis in '97, is not the type of trust that the AG is legally required to protect. The former AG wrote that he could not intervene as petitioned because the case involved private family matters that were outside of his charitable trust enforcement powers.

But in December of last year, a month before she took office, current AG Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson wrote to a court official saying she disagreed with Rapadas. She said it was an important common law function of the attorney general, and she asked for more time to provide her position on what she described as very important litigation.

Fast forward to now: Barrett-Anderson has been in office since January.  And for the Hemlani case, she made a rare, personal appearance in court. She told KUAM News of the matter, "It's extremely complex for me to explain all of the issues, and I'm not involved in a lot of the issues regarding the parties. but I was here today to observe and the purpose of my observation is to understand whether the purpose of the foundations . there are two foundations, that emanate from a trust of both P.D. Hemlani and Radhi Hemlani, and I think the work of those two foundations will now begin as a result of Judge [James] Canto resolving many, many of the issues."

Barrett-Anderson continued, "The role of my office, we represent the people of Guam - the beneficiaries of Guam. And these two charitable foundations if they can start working now, which I think they will be able to do. The people of Guam will see the benefit of the money from these foundations, charitable trusts, entering into the people of Guam who will benefit from it, and so that the wishes of two very, very fine residents, long-time residents and friends of the people of Guam will come to fruition."

As the AG noted, it's a complex case, but simply put, the court ruled that all trust assets should go to two foundations. Ultimately, the foundations will decide which charities will benefit and how much they might get.

But a list drawn up by Radhi Hemlani in 2008 identifies a number of charitable groups, including the Guam chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the Guam Indian Temple. The local Red Cross is also on that list.

So while the court decision now appears to pave the way for distributions by the foundations to go forward, the attorney general says she will be keeping a watchful eye, so that the assets of P.D. and Radhi Hemlani wind up in the rightful hands of charities - just as the couple wanted.  "The Attorney General's Office represents the beneficiaries of the charitable foundation," said the AG. "Those beneficiaries are the people of Guam and in this situation also, the people of the CNMI. So we guard and protect and monitor to make sure that the beneficiaries benefit from these organizations."

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