Ukraine Farm Deal Turns to Nightmare

OMAHA (DTN) -- A North Dakota farmer with business dealings in Ukraine now finds himself in custody there, accused by authorities in that country of plotting an assassination attempt against Ukraine's agriculture minister.

The allegations come after four years of legal battles and incriminating claims in Ukraine between North Dakota farmer Kurt Groszhans, 50, and Roman Leshchenko, who became Ukraine's agricultural minister earlier this year at age 32 and has claimed physical threats against him ever since he took office.

A district court in Kyiv ordered Groszhans be taken into custody and detained last week. The court ordered Groszhans to be taken to a pre-trial detention center, according to Ukrainian media reports, for 60 days.

Kurt Groszhan's family in North Dakota only found out about his arrest after a farmer in Ukraine sent his sister, Kimberly Groszhans, a message on social media. Since then, Kimberly told DTN that family members have been worried about Kurt's health and safety. Another sister heard late Monday from the State Department that some from the embassy had briefly visited Kurt in jail to check on his well-being.

"They said he's in fair condition, but the embassy people said they would check on him again in in 60 days but two months is a long time," Kimberly Groszhans said. "Right now, he's not able to make any phone calls to us or anything."

North Dakota's congressional delegation also has been in contact with the State Department about Groszhan's health and status.

One of the biggest concerns now, Kimberly Groszhans said, is that a public defender assigned to her brother didn't speak English so he dropped the case. The family is searching for someone who can speak English and legally represent Kurt Groszhans in the Ukraine court system. The family set up an email to try to get legal help, freedomforkurt@gmail.com.

AgWeek in North Dakota first reported about the case. Kimberly Groszhans told DTN that the family had emigrated from Ukraine in 1910, and Kurt Groszhans became interested in setting up a farm there after taking a tour. He then visited Ukraine multiple times before working to set up his own farm there.

Ukraine's Ministry of Interior Affairs stated last week that law enforcement had stopped an attempted assassination by Groszhans and a Ukrainian woman against Leshchenko. Ukrainian news reports cite Groszhans had hired Leshchenko as a manager for his farm company in 2018, but later accused Leshchenko of embezzlement. Ukrainian officials claim Groszhans and his female accomplice tried to hire a hit man who was an undercover officer.

While Ukrainian officials allege Groszhans was seeking to assassinate Leshchenko, the North Dakota farmer had waged a public campaign against Leshchenko, accusing the agriculture minister of stealing from the North Dakota farmer's Ukrainian agricultural investments, which included a farm to raise crops. Groszhans claims he has been pursuing criminal and civil charges against Leshchenko through the Ukrainian court system.

A report last January on a website, the Kyiv Post, detailed some of Groszhan's allegations against Leshchenko over $250,000 in theft. The article was published shortly before Leshchenko became the country's agricultural minister. In that article, Leshchenko alleged Groszhans had engaged in dishonest business practices and was smuggling genetically modified crops from the U.S. into Ukraine. Leshchenko threatened in the article to have Groszhans jailed.

Kimberly Groszhans said Kurt was home in North Dakota back in September for his mother's 80th birthday. At that time he showed Kimberly text messages from Leshchenko. "He was basically threatening him in the messages that he would have my brother thrown in jail."

Groszhans posted on LinkedIn two months ago that Leshchenko had been a director of Groszhans' agribusiness in Ukraine and cost Groszhans over $1 million in direct and indirect losses during his seven months of management. Groszhans alleged Leshchenko had taken his money to help finance the political campaign of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019, as well has help the profits of Leshchenko's own farm company.

On the website Medium.com, Groszhans wrote in late August he was looking forward to the meeting between Zelensky and President Joe Biden. Groszhans stated Ukraine needs foreign investment, but he also hoped President Biden would address some of the problems with corruption in Ukraine.

"All these three topics are relevant to me because I am a deceived American investor. I was deceived by the manager of my business -- Roman -- at that time he was a middle-class entrepreneur in the agricultural sector, who began to withdraw my working capital starting from the fourth his working day at my company to his family company and use my seeds on his lands."

Groszhans wrote he has been litigating against Leshchenko over his lost investment funds for "several years." He also noted both law enforcement and judges had made a point of telling him to understand who he is suing. Groszhans wrote that Ukrainian officials "have developed a high resistance to such cases."

Groszhans wrote on LinkedIn that he had provided details to Ukrainian courts and national police about his allegations, but also accused Leshchenko of sabotaging any investigation.

"I (was) forced to attract attention of media to my case," Groszhans posted, providing a link to a website that come up as a virus security threat. "I am ready to answer any questions and provide any documents you might require."

In his writing, Groszhans pointed out both the corruption he believes he is facing in Ukraine while also stating that "in spite of everything" he "believes in the enormous potential of Ukraine and in the unlimited possibilities of American Ukrainian cooperation."

Groszhans added on his LinkedIn post, "I welcome the efforts that the Ukrainian government is doing to make the investment climate in Ukraine better to attract more money into the country. But I also think that tolerating such figures as Roman Leshchenko in the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine is wrong and will have its long-lasting consequences."

The State Department cites Ukraine as "an agricultural powerhouse and the world's second-largest grain exporter." Yet, the State Department also wrote of "extensive corruption in the court system" and lack of integrity as major risks to outside investors as well. Ukraine has been going through a stretch of law changes to overhaul the regulations on the sale of agricultural land -- a series of major reforms that are overseen by Leshchenko's ministry.

January article in Kyiv Post https://www.kyivpost.com/…

Kurt Groszhans' post on Medium https://medium.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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