A former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was found dead in a US hotel four months ago died of head injuries, US coroners say.
Mikhail Lesin, 57, also had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, Washington DC’s chief medical examiner said. However the examiner did not conclude how the injuries had been sustained.
At the time, Russian media had reported Lesin’s death in Washington as a suspected heart attack. Lesin was for a long time considered one of the most influential figures on the Russian media scene and in the corridors of power.
He was a former Russian press minister and once headed the powerful Gazprom-Media Holding group. He was found dead on 5 November 2015 in the Dupont Circle Hotel. It is unclear why he was in Washington but several family members were resident in the US and had business interests there. He worked as an aide to the presidency between 2004 and 2009 and was instrumental in the creation of Russia’s state-funded international broadcaster RT (formerly known as Russia Today).
Who Was Mikhail Lesin?
The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says that for years Mikhail Lesin was a loyal and key member of Putin’s team – the mastermind behind the Kremlin’s wholesale takeover of the Russian media landscape after Mr Putin became president. As Russian press minister and Putin’s media adviser he earned the nickname The Bulldozer for the way in which he crushed all Kremlin critics in his path, our correspondent says. He adds that there was no public falling-out with the Kremlin.
After Lesin’s death, President Putin spoke of his “enormous contribution” to Russian media. The chief medical examiner provided no further details from the post-mortem examination. But police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said the case remained under investigation, the Washington Post reports.
He declined to say whether the post-mortem examination results meant a crime might have been committed. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow expected “clarification from Washington and relevant official data on the progress of the investigation”.
In 2014, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker called for an investigation into Lesin over possible money laundering, saying he had moved his family to the US and bought several multi-million dollar properties in California.
Some of the properties reported to have been bought by companies connected to the family include, according to the LA Times, a house in the Pacific Palisades for almost $4m and a house in Beverley Hills bought in 2011 for almost $14m.
His son Anton Lessine has produced several high-profile Hollywood films, the Business Insider website reports, featuring stars like Brad Pitt, Woody Allen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sen Wicker said Lesin’s fortune had raised “serious questions” and he asked how a former civil servant could have bought and maintained expensive property. He also expressed concern that the purchase might have involved people and groups on a US sanctions list.
Lesin’s Gazprom-Media group is owned by Gazprombank which, in turn, has links to Bank Rossiya, described by the the EU and US authorities as “the personal bank” of top Russian officials. Bank Rossiya is under EU-US sanctions, as is the bank’s biggest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk. He is a longstanding close aide to President Putin.
Lesin made his name in PR and advertising in the 1990s, founding advertising agency Video International or Vi – still one of Russia’s biggest. He went on to became head of the state news agency RIA Novosti and in 1996 he devised the advertising campaign that helped then President Boris Yeltsin win re-election.