Vladimir Putin’s media supremo Mikhail Lesin, who was found dead in a Washington hotel room last year, died of blunt force injuries to the head, U.S. authorities said on Thursday.
Lesin, the man who did more than anyone else to bring Russia’s unruly private media back under state control after Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, also had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, the U.S. capital’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Metropolitan Police Department said in a brief statement.
The new disclosure adds a sensationalist twist to a story that has already generated a score of conspiracy theories in Russia. Lesin had moved to the U.S. after being forced out of the state-controlled holding Gazprom Media in late 2014, according to Russian press reports. That was a matter of months after the downing of flight MH370 over eastern Ukraine led to a major extension of western sanctions against Russian state institutions and members of Putin’s inner circle.
His arrival hadn’t gone unnoticed or uncriticized in the U.S.. Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker had asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Lesin had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in amassing a portfolio of properties in Los Angeles and elsewhere valued at $28 million (Lesin claimed they belonged to his children). The DoJ hadn’t responded to Wicker by the time of Lesin’s death.
Lesin had served as Putin’s Press Minister between 2004 and 2009 and was largely responsible for muzzling criticism of Putin’s government on domestic television. The global English-language news channel Russia Today, RT, set up in 2015 to provide an ‘alternative’ narrative of world events to western media, was also his brainchild.
RT was one of various Russian state-owned outlets that rushed to say that Lesin had died of a heart attack after his death was announced in November. It quoted Lesin family members at the time and referred to reports of a “prolonged unidentified illness.”
According to a police incident report, Lesin was found unconscious on Nov. 5 on the floor of his room in the Doyle Washington Hotel (also known as the Dupont Circle Hotel). An ambulance was called and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
A U.S. law enforcement source said Thursday the investigation into Lesin’s death, led by Washington, D.C. police, did not rule out a possible change to a murder probe.
The source said when police first investigated the hotel room where Lesin’s body was found, they did not find any damage or evidence indicating foul play.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in the United States said their officials for the past several months have requested through diplomatic channels information regarding the progress of the investigation.
“No substantial information has been provided. With regard to the document that has been released to the public today, we expect the American side to provide us with relevant official explanation,” press secretary Yury Melnik said in an email.
Reuters contributed to this report.