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Moscow Asks Washington For Information Regarding Lesin Death

Mikhail Lesin (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002
Mikhail Lesin (right) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002

Russia's Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika has made an official request to Washington for information concerning the death of former Russian press minister and presidential adviser Mikhail Lesin.

Chaika's spokesman, Saak Karapetian, said on March 11 that the request was sent to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in accordance with a U.S.-Russian agreement on mutual assistance in criminal inquiries.

The statement comes a day after officials in Washington said Lesin, who was found dead in a hotel room in the U.S. capital on November 5, died of "blunt force injuries to the head," a determination suggesting the former ally of President Vladimir Putin may have been murdered.

The office of the city's chief medical examiner said in a statement released to RFE/RL on March 10 that other contributing factors to Lesin's death were "blunt force injuries" to his neck, torso, and upper and lower extremities.

The New York Times quoted an unnamed official as saying that those injuries were the result of what the newspaper described as "some sort of altercation" that occurred before Lesin, 59, returned to his room at Washington's Dupont Circle Hotel.

The medical examiner's office said the case was still pending and had no further comment.

A spokesman for the Washington police department, Dustin Sternbeck, said the case remains an active investigation but would not say if the medical examiner’s ruling means a crime may have been committed.

"We’re not willing to close off anything at this point," Sternbeck told The Washington Post.

The FBI also had no immediate comment about the medical examiner's statement.

At the time of Lesin's death, Kremlin-funded media quoted family members as saying the millionaire and longtime adviser to Putin died of a heart attack.

The amount of time medical officials have taken to release a final coroner's report has since led to speculation about the exact cause of his death.

As Putin’s press minister between 1999 and 2004, Lesin headed the Kremlin-controlled media giant Gazprom Media and helped set up Russia Today, the English-language news network now known as RT.

In 2013, he became head of Gazprom-Media Holding but resigned the following year, reportedly citing family reasons.

In 2014, a U.S. senator asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Lesin used illicit funds to purchase several multimillion-dollar homes in the Los Angeles area.

Public property registries indicate that a corporation known as Dastel purchased a 1,208-square-meter Beverly Hills home in August 2011 for $13.8 million and a 985-square-meter Brentwood home for $9 million in 2012.

Documents submitted in California Superior Court and obtained by RFE/RL show that Lesin was the sole owner of Dastel, which was incorporated in California in July 2011.

There was no answer at the California phone number listed for Dastel Corporation in public records.

Other public records and court documents show that two additional expensive properties in the Los Angeles area are linked to Lesin's immediate family.

Lesin’s son, Anton Lessine, is a successful financier of several well-known Hollywood films, including projects featuring Woody Allen, John Turturro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Brad Pitt.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a Facebook post on March 11 that the Russian Embassy in Washington has made multiple requests for information about the investigation into Lesin's death but has received no answer.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Mike Eckel, The New York Times, and The Washington Post
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