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Washington Lawyers Move To Delay Deadline For Turning Over Lesin Autopsy Records

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) gestures as Media Minister Mikhail Lesin listens to him during a meeting with local press in the far eastern city of Vladivostok in August 2002.

WASHINGTON -- City lawyers in Washington, D.C., have moved to delay turning over autopsy documents related to the death of former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, following a judge's order to release the files.

The motion, which was dated February 19 but has yet to appear in the court docket, has not yet been ruled on by D.C. Superior Court Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo.

Puig-Lugo on February 13 ordered the city's medical examiner to turn over autopsy records and other files to RFE/RL in response to a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit brought by the news organization 16 months ago.

The motion is the latest development in a long-running fight to gain access to files that could provide a definitive answer on how Lesin, a once-powerful media adviser to President Vladimir Putin, died in a hotel room just blocks from the White House in November 2015.

In their argument, city lawyers said they had not decided whether to appeal the February 13 ruling, but needed the statutory 30-day window to decide -- until March 15.

In the meantime, they said the documents should not be released to RFE/RL.

"The bell of producing the documents cannot be unrung once the documents are produced," they wrote.

A key shaper of the Kremlin's media strategy under Putin, Lesin fell out of favor sometime around 2012 and had largely been out of public view until his body was found in the Dupont Circle Hotel on November 5, 2015.

An initial report by the medical examiner's office in March 2016 declared Lesin's death was caused by blunt-force trauma. It said the manner of death was "undetermined."

The final report, released in October 2016 by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Washington and city police, called his death accidental -- caused by blunt-force injuries to the neck, torso, and lower upper extremities "which were induced by falls." Acute ethanol intoxication was cited as a contributing factor.

The report was met with deep suspicion by business acquaintances and others familiar with the once-powerful, wealthy Kremlin insider who was instrumental in Russia's crackdown on independent TV.

Lesin was also behind the creation of RT, the government-funded international TV broadcaster previously known as Russia Today.

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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.