Was Putin’s Media Chief Ready to Snitch Before He Dropped Dead?

Editor’s Note: Interesting article here about the mysterious death of Mikhail Lesin, former Putin press minister who established Russia Today in 2005. This article claims he had a falling out with Putin and other major players in Russia, and was about to become a witness for the FBI to inform on corrupt Russian officials. Then he suddenly “had a heart attack” and died, which RT instantly reported as fact without confirmation.


Shane Harris / The Daily Beast

The D.C. cops won’t say what killed Mikhail Lesin—or what he was doing in a hotel room there. But all signs point to the former Kremlin propaganda boss cutting a deal with the FBI.

When police found Mikhail Lesin dead in a Washington, D.C., hotel room, the most interesting question wasn’t the cause of his demise, but what he was doing in the United States in the first place.

The former propaganda chief for Russian president Vladimir Putin, nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his history of rolling over his opposition, Lesin had been under scrutiny by the FBI and the Justice Department for potential money laundering and violation of corruption laws. Lesin was suspected of hiding ill-gotten gains in nearly $30 million worth of luxury real estate in southern California, an astounding set of assets for a man supposedly collecting a civil servant’s salary. He’d also been considered for sanctions that would have prevented him from obtaining a visa to enter the United States.

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi who has spent years looking into corruption and human-rights abuses in Russia, had asked the Justice Department to investigate Lesin. In December 2014, the department confirmed it had referred Lesin’s case to the Criminal Division and to the FBI. While officials declined to say whether they formally opened an investigation, several close watchers of Lesin’s case told The Daily Beast they thought it was all but certain that he was being pursued by U.S. law enforcement. And if he wasn’t under active criminal investigation, the FBI had enough evidence to consider opening a case, they said. A bureau spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

So why did Lesin, who was 57, tempt fate by entering the United States this past November?

The purpose of his visit was never made clear. But he was staying in a mid-range hotel on Washington’s DuPont Circle. While not shabby, it’s doesn’t seem the kind of place that attracts people who buy multimillion-dollar estates. It does, though, offer a comparatively low per-night rate, perhaps more in line with U.S. government budgets, and is known to host foreign government officials and visitors on exchange programs. It’s also located a short drive from FBI and Justice Department headquarters.

These are the broad strokes of Lesin’s case. And in some foreign policy circles in Washington—as well as in Russian media—they have fueled speculation that Lesin was murdered after coming to Washington to cut a deal with the FBI.

Lesin certainly would have had a lot to say about Putin’s inner circle—he worked with, and reportedly owed money to, some of the most powerful men in Russian media and finance. And he would have had a powerful incentive to cooperate with U.S. authorities, namely hanging onto his several mansions in Los Angeles, which potentially could have been seized. At least two of the homes are known to be occupied, respectively, by his daughter and his son, a Hollywood film producer whose star is on the rise.

Adding to the mystery, the precise cause of Lesin’s untimely demise hasn’t been revealed. Almost immediately, the broadcasting outfit RT (Russia Today), widely seen as a Kremlin mouthpiecereported that Lesin died of a “heart attack,” citing an unnamed “family member.”


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