Senator visits North Dakota farmer detained in Ukraine assassination plot
The senator said that while he was privy to more details of the case, he could not provide specific details and referred further questions to Groszhans’ family.
WASHINGTON — A North Dakota farmer accused of plotting to assassinate a senior Ukrainian agriculture official received a visit from home this week, from one of his state’s U.S. senators.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was on a diplomatic visit to Ukraine in response to Russian military buildup on the country’s eastern border, was able to meet Kurt Groszhans in person at a pretrial detention facility in Kyiv, the nation’s capital. Cramer said Groszhans, a farmer in his early 50s who grew up in the southern North Dakota town of Ashley, appeared optimistic and focused on his defense at an upcoming trial.
“I hadn’t met him before, he looked good. He was in really — all things considered — pretty reasonably good spirits,” Cramer told Forum News Service in a Wednesday, Jan. 19, phone interview. “I think he was relieved to see someone from home, you know, even if it is just a politician.”
Cramer said he spent about 45 minutes with Groszhans, who has not heard much about his case since he has not had access to the internet. Cramer said he asked Groszhans to pray with him, which he was “happy to do.”
The senator said that while he was privy to more details of the case, he could not provide specific details and referred further questions to Groszhans’ family. He said the Ukrainian government has been responsive to requests for information from the U.S. State Department and other officials.
“I stress my appreciation for them accommodating that and also expressed my strong expectation of a fair trial with the type of due process that we would expect,” Cramer said.
Ukrainian authorities took Groszhans into custody in November after the North Dakota farmer was accused of trying to hire a contract killer to assassinate former business partner Roman Leshchenko, who later was appointed Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food in the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In an August 2021 blog post confirmed by family members, Groszhans claimed Leshchenko had embezzled money while serving as manager of Groszhans’ farming business in Ukraine. In a lawsuit reported on in Ukrainian media, Groszhans alleged Leshchenko had taken $430,000.
News of the embezzlement allegations broke the same week Leshchenko was confirmed as agriculture minister, according to media reports previously cited by Forum News Service. Groszhans in his blog post claimed Leshchenko made contributions to Zelensky’s presidential campaign in 2019.
Ukrainian media reported Leshchenko said he had repaid the debt he owed to Groszhans. The country’s interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky, said the lawsuit was an attempt to make Leshchenko pay “imaginary debts.”
Groszhans allegedly attempted to make a deal in July 2021 that included a $20,000 deposit and an agreement Leshchenko would be killed after Groszhans returned to the U.S., Ukrainian media reported. The Ukrainian woman Groszhans allegedly worked with to arrange the hit spoke with a person cooperating with a national law enforcement agency, and their interactions were recorded.
Groszhans and a Ukrainian woman named Olena Bohach were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for 60 days in November 2021.
Cramer would not comment on the case or provide details on when the trial would happen, but it has been two months since Nov. 19, when some of the first foreign reports of the arrest were posted online.
“I’ll leave the rest to his lawyers and family,” Cramer said by phone when asked for further details on the case.
Groszhans’ family members told Forum News Service late last year that they were aware of troubles with Leshchenko, and said Groszhans was an honest businessman who appears to have gotten “tangled up” with the “wrong people.”