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Russian officials seek answers in mysterious death of former Putin aide in Washington

Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who helped found the English-language news service Russia Today, seen here in 2002, was found dead in an upscale Washington hotel room, police and Russian authorities said. He was 57.

Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who helped found the English-language news service Russia Today, seen here in 2002, was found dead in an upscale Washington hotel room, police and Russian authorities said. He was 57.


(Sergei Ilntsky, EPA)

Russian officials said Friday that they want more information from the U.S. about the mysterious death of a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was found in an upscale Washington hotel room last fall.

Autopsy results released Thursday said Mikhail Lesin, Putin’s former press minister who helped found the English-language news service Russia Today, died of blunt force trauma to the head and other parts of his body, but authorities have not said how he got the injuries. The 57-year-old was discovered in his room at the Doyle Dupont Circle Hotel in November and Russian media, citing relatives, previously reported that the Lesin suffered a heart attack.

“We haven’t received any detailed information via formal channels of communication that (we use) for such cases, and in the light of these media reports we hope that we will receive the detailed information,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday.

On Thursday evening, District of Columbia police and the medical examiner’s office said in a joint statement that the cause of Lesin’s death was blunt force trauma to the head and contributing causes were blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs. The manner of death was undetermined, the statement said.

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Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said that the case is “very much an active investigation” and officials would release updates when they are available. He didn’t expect any additional details Friday.

Lesin, one of Russia’s leading media managers, helped stage Putin’s ascent to power in 2000 and was a key figure in the Kremlin’s effort to establish tight control over the nation’s media throughout the 2000s.

Lesin built a quick career in television advertising in the early 1990s, making his company the industry’s leader. In 1999, he was named Russian media minister and played a key role Putin’s first election campaign. Following Putin’s election, he oversaw the Kremlin’s efforts to establish state control over Russia’s top private TV channel, NTV, and helped tame other media.

In 2004 he was named Putin’s adviser, and in the following year oversaw the launch of Russia Today, currently known as RT, a state-controlled channel intended to reach global audience.

From 2013-2015, Lesin served as the chief executive of Gazprom Media, a state-controlled holding company that includes NTV television along with the nation’s top independent radio station, Ekho Moskvy, and several other media outlets.

It took about four months for Lesin’s autopsy to be completed. Ninety percent of autopsies are done in three months or less, but they can sometimes take longer, according to medical examiner spokeswoman LaShon Beamon.

The autopsy was completed this week and results released initially to Lesin’s family and then to the media, she said.

The Interfax news agency reported that Russia’s top prosecutor, Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika, has asked his American counterpart, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, for information about the Lesin case.

“Yuri Chaika today sent his American colleague an inquiry about providing documents and materials necessary for ascertaining the cause and circumstances of the death of Mikahil Lesin,” Chaika’s spokesman Saak Karapetian was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Associated Press


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