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FBI Considers Money-Laundering Probe Of Russian Media Boss

Kremlin media mogul Mikhail Lesin attends a news conference of the Council on Protecting Intellectual Property in December 2013.
Kremlin media mogul Mikhail Lesin attends a news conference of the Council on Protecting Intellectual Property in December 2013.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. federal authorities are considering a request to investigate whether a powerful Russian state media boss, Mikhail Lesin, violated U.S. anti-money-laundering laws when he purchased expensive California real estate.

RFE/RL has obtained a copy of a December 3 letter from U.S. Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik that says the request by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker was referred to the U.S. Justice Department's criminal division and the FBI.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman confirmed the letter's authenticity.

Lesin, the head of Russian state-owned entertainment conglomerate Gazprom-Media, is a former Russian press minister and is seen as the mastermind behind the Kremlin-funded RT broadcasting network.

Wicker asked the U.S. Justice Department in July to investigate whether Lesin used illicit funds to purchase several multimillion-dollar homes in the Los Angeles area.

Wicker told RFE/RL that while the Justice Department "does not confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation," he believed Kadzik's letter "is a positive step forward."

"I am hopeful that the full range of tools available to the agency are being used to look into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-money-laundering statutes by Mr. Lesin," Wicker said in e-mailed comments.

Documents submitted in unrelated litigation in California Superior Court and obtained by RFE/RL show Lesin is the sole owner of Dastel Corporation, a company incorporated in California in July 2011.

Public property registries show that Dastel Corporation purchased a 13,000-square-foot (1,208-square-meter) Beverly Hills home in August 2011 for $13.8 million and a 10,600-square-foot (985-square-meter) Brentwood home for $9 million in 2012.

Public records and court documents show that two other pricey properties in the Los Angeles area are linked to Lesin's immediate family.

In his July 29 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Wicker said the fact "that a Russian public servant could have amassed the considerable funds required to acquire and maintain" such expensive assets abroad "raises serious questions."

Lesin responded to Wicker's letter in a lengthy interview with the Russian version of "Forbes" magazine in August, claiming that his children took out loans to purchase the real estate in question.

"It certainly is not my property," Lesin said in the interview.

But Dastel Corporation president and treasurer Ilya Tsipis said in a July 21 declaration to Los Angeles Superior Court that from the company's inception, "the entire issued and outstanding stock of Dastel has been owned by a single person: Mikhail Lesin, a resident of the United States of America."

Tsipis attached to his declaration what he called a "true and correct copy" of Lesin's stock certificate, which corroborates Tsipis's statements and was seen by RFE/RL. Tsipis added that Dastel "is not owned and has never been owned" by Lesin's son, Anton Lessine, daughter-in-law, or wife.

The declaration was made in connection with a lawsuit filed by a household worker employed by Dastel who claims that the company and Lesin's immediate family members committed numerous labor-law violations.

That lawsuit is set to go to trial in March, according to the U.S. local news site

Anton Lessine is a film producer who served alongside Hollywood star Brad Pitt as an executive producer for the World War II drama "Fury," which starred Pitt and was released in October.

Lesin said in the "Forbes" interview that his daughter heads a bureau for RT, the Kremlin-funded international news network launched in 2005.

Lesin has been widely credited as a mastermind of the RT project, which U.S. officials have accused of disseminating Kremlin "propaganda." The network has consistently responded to such criticism by saying it provides an alternative perspective to global events.

The founder of Video International, one of Russia's largest advertising firms, Lesin served as press minister during Russian President Vladimir Putin's first term, when he played a central role in cementing state control over the independent television channel NTV.

He went on to serve as a Kremlin adviser during Putin's second term and was dismissed from that post in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Lesin has headed Gazprom-Media, the country's largest media holding, since October 2013.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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