Legal battle was part of scandal around soybean organization


Capital Press

The former head of the U.S. Soybean Export Council has lost a defamation lawsuit against an ex-employee who made allegations about mismanagement and improper behavior.

The lawsuit was initially launched by Dan Duran in September 2008, at which point he was still serving as CEO of the USSEC, an international marketing organization that's partially funded through "checkoff" fees on farmers.

In the legal complaint, Duran said two former USSEC overseas directors falsely claimed he had mismanaged the organization and engaged in an adulterous affair with a female subordinate.

On June 8, a federal judge in Missouri entered a directed verdict dismissing the complaint against Christopher Andrew, the former USSEC regional director for the Middle East and Africa.

The case against Tom Nishio, former USSEC country director for Japan, was previously dismissed because he wasn't timely served with the complaint.

The case against Andrew was dismissed because "a key witness became unavailable at the last moment," preventing the matter from being argued before a jury, said Patrick McCarthy, an attorney representing Duran.

An attorney representing Andrew said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

According to court documents, in 2008 Andrew sent an e-mail to the USSEC's board of directors accusing Duran of violating U.S. regulations and Turkish law.

Turkey was experiencing a high rate of currency inflation, and Andrew claimed Duran refused to raise the salaries of workers at the Turkish office commensurately with inflation, violating foreign and domestic laws, according to court documents.

Around the same time, Nishio sent e-mails to the USSEC's chairman and treasurer accusing Duran of entering into an "intimate and immoral relationship" with a Japanese soy food marketer, according to court documents.

Andrew later repeated those allegations in other e-mails, according to court documents.

The USSEC soon terminated Andrew and Nishio, stating that they had been spreading false rumors.

An investigation by a law firm had "yielded no findings to substantiate the allegations" against Duran, according to an August 2008 statement from the organization.

Duran then sued the two former directors, seeking an injunction to stop them from making further allegations as well as compensation in an amount to be determined at trial.

However, the accusations soon became part of a larger controversy.

In December 2008, the American Soybean Association -- a lobbyist group representing farmers -- called for the USDA to investigate the alleged misuse of checkoff dollars, including the allegations against Duran.

The association mentioned a 2007 incident in which Duran reportedly held a knife to another man's neck and groin after an executive retreat in Branson, Mo.

According to his attorney, Duran pulled the knife to protect his colleagues from an impending assault.

In March 2009, the USSEC's board of directors put Duran on administrative leave with "no further comment" explaining his departure, according to a statement from the organization.

The board felt Duran's ability to operate had been compromised by the uproar surrounding the allegations, said McCarthy. Duran's contract with USSEC expired in September 2009 and he is now looking for work in the agricultural industry.

Last year, Duran spent about eight hours speaking with investigators from the USDA's Office of Inspector General, McCarthy said.

The investigation is ongoing.

but Duran is confident the agency's report will not find any wrongdoing on his part, McCarthy said. "Mr. Duran didn't do anything other than try to grow the market for U.S. soybeans."

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