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Mikhail Lesin

Former Putin aide Mikhail Lesin died of blunt head trauma, the Washington Post reported 11 March 2016. Lesin died on November 6, 2015 at the Dupont Circle in the very center of the US capital at the age of 57. The police found nothing suspicious at the scene then. Lesin also had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, Washington DC's chief medical examiner said after a post-mortem.

Alfred Kokh, a former Russian prime minister who held the Gazprom Media post more than a decade before Mr Lesin, described the embassy’s statement as a “strange flight of fantasy”. Referring to a potential US justice department and FBI investigation into Mr Lesin in connection with corruption allegations, he said: “Why do [they] want so much to make everybody believe that it was a heart attack? Maybe they were afraid that Lesin tells the FBI about something in exchange for them ending the investigation?”

Another commentator who posted under the name Wolf said on VKontakte, a Russian social media site: “He is not the first one, and he will not be the last. We have had so many famous Russians murdered abroad that whenever some prominent compatriot dies outside the motherland, you have to assume that they will find poison.”

Lesin briefly headed the Kremlin's public relations office (1996-1997), and serve as vice-president of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (1997-1999) as it transformed into a major media holding. He was believed to have been given the position for his loyalty to president Yeltsin during the 1996 re-election campaign. Lesin held the post of Russia’s Minister for the Press, TV and Radio Broadcasting and Mass Communications between July 1999 and February 2004.

Lesin was not without his sins, and was involved in the dirty media games of late 1990s Russia. The media guru was rumored to have played a key role in the creation of a secret tape compromising former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov. Lesin participated in one of the loudest media scandals of the early 2000s – the transfer of oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky's media holding company Media Most's assets to state energy giant Gazprom.

Between 2004 and 2009, Lesin served as an advisor to the Russian president, charged with overseeing the development of media and information technology, including the creation of Russia Today. Lesin is also widely credited as the creator of international broadcaster Russia Today (now RT), a state-run English-language television network which offers an alternative, non-Western view of global events.

Lesin's resignation in 2009 was unexpected, and widely rumored to have been the result of a perceived conflict of interest between his activities in business and his work as a civil servant. In 2013-2014 he was the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Gazprom-Media Holding. He resigned in January 2015, citing family reasons. He was said to have had a falling out with a major shareholder of Gazprom Media, Yuri V. Kovalchuk, an even closer business ally and friend of Putin.

Some speculated that he fled to the United States for exile, as have others who had fallen from favor inside Putin’s Kremlin. Karen Dawisha, a professor at Miami University and the author of “Putin’s Kleptocracy” about corruption among Putin’s allies, said that Lesin “... knew more than most about the system’s dark center”.

US authorities ruled the death of former Kremlin media boss Mikhail Lesin an accident, saying that a nearly year-long investigation determined that "acute" alcohol intoxication was a contributing factor and that the case is now closed. Federal prosecutors said in an 28 October 2016 statement that Lesin, 57, died in a Washington hotel on November 4, 2015, due to "falls" that left him with "blunt force injuries" after drinking heavily for several days. His death was a result of "blunt force injuries to his head, with contributing causes being blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities," the statement said.

In October 2016, the US authorities announced that Lesin died of natural causes and closed the case. “Based on the evidence, including video footage and witness interviews, Mr. Lesin entered his hotel room on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, after days of excessive consumption of alcohol and sustained the injuries that resulted in his death while alone in his hotel room,” the US attorney for the District of Columbia said in a statement.

An FBI report declassified in January 2018 said that the 57-year-old, who had, according to witnesses, been on a days-long drinking binge, died as a result of “blunt injuries to his head, with contributing causes being blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities, which were induced by falls, with acute ethanol intoxication.”

“What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed News in 2017. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.... There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can't get into.”

According to Buzzfeed, whose article on 27 March 2018 had seven authors in its byline, the FBI covered up the death of Mikhail Lesin in 2015 by ignoring the claim it was a Moscow hitjob. This came from Christopher Steele, the author of the notorious Trump-Russia dossier. Steele, a former UK intelligence officer turned private researcher, produced a “secret report” using “gathered intelligence from high-level sources in Moscow.”

Steele’s report says that Lesin was bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for an oligarch close to Putin, the four sources said. The thugs had been instructed to beat Lesin, not kill him, but they went too far, the sources said Steele wrote. Three of the sources said that the report described the killers as Russian state security agents moonlighting for the oligarch. The Steele report is not the FBI's only source for this account of Lesin's death: Three other people, acting independently from Steele, said they also told the FBI that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for the same oligarch named by Steele. The other sources are later revealed to be “a business associate of Lesin and two intelligence officials.”

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Page last modified: 29-04-2018 19:36:15 ZULU