US: Russia Today Founder Died in DC Hotel of Head Injuries

Published: 11 March 2016

Mikhail Lesin, left, with Vladimir Putin (Wikimedia)Mikhail Lesin, left, with Vladimir Putin (Wikimedia)

By Stella Roque

The Washington, DC medical examiner said that Mikhail Lesin, the founder of Russia Today (RT) and close aide of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, “died of blunt force trauma to the head,” reported the Washington Post.  

The medical examiner’s office said Thursday that Lesin also suffered injuries to his neck, torso and upper and lower extremities. The medical examiner did not determine whether the injuries were the result of a crime, an accident or something else, according to the Washington Post.

Lesin, a Russian media mogul, was found dead in his room at the Dupont Circle Hotel on the morning of Nov. 5. His death sparked a number of conspiracy theories, reported the Financial Times (FT).

When he died last November, the Russian embassy and state media reported the cause of death as a heart attack. Yet Russian opposition members and journalists questioned why Lesin was in Washington and why one of Russia’s former high-level officials was staying at a modest hotel where a room costs US$ 215 a night, the FT said.

Lesin was the former Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications in Russia between 1999 and 2004, reported Sputnik. By 2004, he rose to become one of Putin’s closest advisors.

He managed the state’s gradual takeover of private TV channels during his tenure under Putin and established the English-language state-run RT to promote the Kremlin’s line. In 2009, Lesin left his role as Putin’s advisor to become the head of Gazprom Media, among Russia’s most influential media holdings, reported the FT.

In 2014, he abruptly resigned from his position and apparently left Russia. Later that year, US Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, asked the FBI to investigate whether Lesin had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with his alleged ownership of US$ 28 million in California real estate.

The DC police department’s chief spokesperson, Dustin Sternbeck, said Lesin’s death remains under investigation. He would not say whether the medical examiner’s ruling meant a crime was committed but said police are “not willing to close off anything at this point.”

Russian officials have been disgruntled that they have not been kept abreast with the investigation.

“The Russian Embassy in the United States has repeatedly sent a request through diplomatic channels about the investigation into the death of a Russian citizen,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a post on Facebook. “The American side has not provided us with any substantive information. We are waiting for clarification from Washington and the relevant official details on the progress of the investigation.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington DC says it will file a request with US authorities to receive more information in regards to circumstances of Lesin’s death, reported Sputnik.