Soybean industry turmoil continues at top

ST. LOUIS — Dan Duran, CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, has been placed on administrative leave by the council’s board of directors.

Duran will be on leave with full pay and benefits until further notice.

The council issued no further comment following the March 3 statement.

The action comes as additional facts of allegations of wrongdoing and ethical misconduct brew at the council and within the soybean marketing circles.

The soybean export council conducts international marketing programs and offers technical assistance, with the goal of increasing U.S. soybean demand. It is funded primarily by the producer checkoff dollars and by the American Soybean Association’s investment of funding from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
Miguel Escobar, who has been serving as the council’s executive director since 2007, has been named interim CEO.

Duran suit

Last fall, Duran had filed a defamation of character suit in U.S. District Court in Eastern Missouri against former employees Christopher Andrew and Tom Nishio.

Andrew, who was terminated last July for allegedly lying to superiors and failing to complete his management duties, is former regional director for the export council, based in Turkey. He had worked for the council for 10 years. Nishio is a former country director for the council in Japan.

In his case, Duran alleges Andrew published disparaging and false statements about Duran’s conduct, and circulated a doctored photograph of Duran posing with a dictator of an enemy country, and that Nishio distributed false information about an extramarital affair between Duran and a female employee.

Duran claims he felt so threatened by Andrew’s continued actions that he placed his home and family under protective surveillance.

On the other side, Andrew filed suit against the council in Turkey early last summer alleging wrongful termination. According to an e-mail he sent to soybean industry leaders July 7, 2008, Andrew had written to the council board in June to express concerns regarding Duran disregard for the law and generally poor judgment. “Within two weeks of voicing these concerns, my 10-year employment with the organization was abruptly terminated,” the e-mail reads.

Other drama

To get to the bottom of many of the issues, the American Soybean Association petitioned the USDA last December for an investigation of the United Soybean Board and the U.S. Soybean Export Council to make sure soybean checkoff dollars are being managed correctly, following allegations of abuse.

Allegations included, among other claims: misuse of checkoff and federal funds; use of a knife against by an employee at an official function; an improper sexual relationship disrupting the management of the Japan foreign office; no-bid contracting violations; and firing of whistleblower employees.

That action triggered the formation of a splinter group, the U.S. Soybean Federation, formed Jan. 9 primarily by producers in Minnesota and Missouri. Organizers said the American Soybean Association’s petition for the soybean checkoff investigation jeopardizes the entire checkoff and is “not in the best interest of soybean farmers,” according to news statement released in January.

The federal audit of the National Soybean Checkoff Program is being coordinated by the Office of the Inspector General.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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