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Medical Examiner Says Ex-Kremlin Press Minister Died Of 'Blunt Force' To Head

Mikhail Lesin headed the Kremlin-controlled media giant Gazprom Media and helped set up Russia Today, the English-language news network now known as RT.
Mikhail Lesin headed the Kremlin-controlled media giant Gazprom Media and helped set up Russia Today, the English-language news network now known as RT.

WASHINGTON -- Officials in Washington, D.C., say former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who was found dead in a hotel room in the U.S. capital in November, 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 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 paper described as "some sort of altercation" that occurred before Lesin 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 findings indicated that a crime had 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 city medical examiner's statement.

Lesin was found in his hotel room on November 5. He was 59.

At the time of his 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.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said it had asked on several occasions for information from U.S. authorities about the Lesin investigation.

"The Russian Embassy...has repeatedly sent through diplomatic channels inquiries about the progress of the investigation into the death of Russia's citizen. The U.S. side has not provided us any substantive information," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook on March 11.

"We are waiting for clarifications from Washington.... If the information published by the media today is confirmed, then Russia's authorities will send a request to the U.S. side for international legal assistance," she wrote.

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 the 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 and John Turturro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Brad Pitt.

With reporting by The New York Times and The Washington Post
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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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