Police Report Details Final Days Of Former Russian Press Minister Lesin
Mike Eckel December 05, 2017
WASHINGTON – A city police report found that Mikhail Lesin, the former Russian press minister who later fell out of favor with the Kremlin, had been drinking heavily in the days prior to being found dead in a Washington hotel in November 2015.
The heavily redacted documents reveal some new details about Lesin's final days but leave many other questions unanswered, including with whom Lesin was interacting in the U.S. capital and his reasons for being there in the first place.
Lesin's death was declared accidental, due to blunt force injuries to the neck, torso and lower upper extremities, according to a final report released in October 2016 by the U.S. Attorney's office for Washington and city police. Acute ethanol intoxication was a contributing factor, the report said.
But the death of a once powerful, wealthy Russian figure who was instrumental in the Kremlin's crackdown on independent TV and in the creation of the Russia Today TV channel, in a hotel just a few blocks from the White House, was met with deep suspicion among many journalists and Russia-watchers, as well as some business acquaintances.
The police report was first published by the Washington Post on December 5.
Lesin owned mansions in Beverly Hills, California, where his children and estranged wife live, and was not known to be a regular visitor to Washington.
Gala Fund Raiser
It later emerged that one of his reasons for being in the U.S. capital was to attend a gala fund-raiser at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute on November 3, two days before his body was found. One of the philanthropists being honored that night was the influential Russian banker Pyotr Aven. However, Lesin never attended the event.
Aven also attended a private event at the Atlantic Council, another Washington think tank, on November 4. According to one person with knowledge of that event, Lesin had sought to attend as well, but the organizers declined to include him.
In the 58-page police report, investigators said Lesin was drinking heavily in the Four Seasons Hotel, as well as in the Dupont Circle Hotel, where he was ultimately found.
The report cites staff from both hotels saying that security guards saw Lesin walking drunk through the halls, sometimes wearing black underwear and a dress shirt.
While at the Four Seasons, the report said, hotel officials called the U.S. Secret Service, who advised a guard be posted at his door and prevent him from leaving. Lesin twice walked behind a hotel bar and took liquor bottles even after security guards told him he could have no more.
Оn November 3, at 1:45 p.m., the report said, Lesin met a friend at the Four Seasons. A few minutes later, a security guard checked on Lesin in his room and found him "passed out on the bed."
The report gives no indication who the friend was, nor does it mention the person's name again, though it said the person was staying at the hotel.
On November 4, the report said, Lesin left the Four Seasons at around 5 a.m. and took a taxi to the Dupont Circle hotel where he checked in, paying for a $1,200 room on the hotel's luxury ninth floor in cash.
Not long afterward, he returned to the Four Seasons, where staff reported him being intoxicated, and where he came and went to his room, once with more liquor from a nearby store. Hotel security locked him out of his room around 9.30 a.m. and he then took a taxi back to Dupont Circle.
A clerk at the Dupont Circle noted he was "very intoxicated." A video security camera showed "the only visible injury is to the left eye," the report said.
On November 4, at around 2 p.m., a Dupont Circle security guard who reported finding Lesin "stumbling drunk" in his room, asked if he needed medical help. Lesin put his arm on the guard's shoulder and replied "nyet," the report said.
About six hours later, at 8:16 p.m., another guard found Lesin lying face down on the floor in his room. He was breathing but the guard said he was unable to wake him, the report said.
The following morning, at 11:30 a.m., a security guard who went to Lesin's room to remind him to check out, found him still face down on the floor. The guard called for medical help, and responding police determined Lesin was dead.
Russia officials have said little publicly about Lesin's death, aside from indicating early on that they expected U.S. law enforcement to provide full details. An e-mail was sent to the spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington on December 5, but there was no immediate response.
In 2014, a year before his death, Lesin had drawn attention from the U.S. Senate, where at least one lawmaker had called on the FBI to investigate him for possible money laundering.
Since his death, some of Lesin's assets have been gradually sold off. His yacht was sold in Florida in 2016, listed for $40 million.
Earlier this year, his two Beverly Hills mansions were listed for sale, at $23 million and $29 million. It wasn't immediately clear if the homes had sold already.
Much of Lesin's wealth came from a private company he set up in the 1990s to sell television advertising on Russia's then-exploding TV-advertising market. That company, called Video International, or VI, was later acquired by Yury Kovalchuk, the main shareholder of Bank Rossia, which has been closely linked to the Kremlin.
With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Carl Schreck
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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