The FBI is in possession of an additional Steele report that casts doubt on the findings of a Washington D.C. Police Department investigation into the mysterious death of a Russian media mogul in 2015.
Mikhail Lesin, the founder of Russia Today, Russia’s state-owned news outlet, was found dead in a hotel room in Washington D.C. in November of 2015. A Washington D.C. Police Department investigation that lasted eleven months concluded Lesin died of blunt force trauma to the head. The D.C. medical examiner also said that Lesin suffered injuries to his neck, torso and upper and lower extremities.
His death was ruled an “accident,” caused by drunken falls in his hotel room after “days of excessive consumption of alcohol,” according to a federal prosecutor.
It’s being reported that the FBI is in possession of a report, compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, that Lesin was beaten to death by people working for a wealthy Russian oligarch. The report states Lesin was not supposed to be killed but the enforcers got carried away. It’s also being reported that Lesin was killed on the eve of a meeting with officials from the U.S. Justice Department who were investigating Lesin and the inner workings of the network he founded.
Federal prosecutors had also called witnesses to testify before a grand jury in Lesin’s murder in 2016. Officials declined to identify the witnesses or discuss their testimony. A Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit brought to obtain documents relating to the case is ongoing.
Lesin was the former propaganda chief for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He played a prominent role in helping the Russian president consolidate power over Russia’s media in the early part of his term. He helped Putin take over Russia’s independent television station, NTV, which aired reports critical of Putin’s government as well as the war in Chechnya, and also became a platform for Putin’s detractors.
Lesin, while serving as Russia’s information minister, jailed NTV’s funder and majority shareholder, Vladimir Gusinsky. Gusinsky’s holdings in NTV were taken away from him by force after he refused to transfer them over to Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom voluntarily. Lesin would go on to found Russia Today, or RT, as it’s known today. He conceived of the idea while working for Putin and created it in order to counter what he saw as anti-Russian journalism in the West.
Lesin caught the attention of U.S. investigators because it’s believed that money gotten through illegal seizures such as the one from Gusinsky, was laundered and then invested in American real estate. Lesin was under investigation from the FBI and the Justice Department for potentially stashing up to $30 million in luxury real estate purchases in southern California. At least two of the homes are occupied by Lesin’s daughter and son respectively.
In December of 2014, the Justice Department confirmed that it had referred Lesin’s case to the FBI. The FBI, citing Bureau policy declined to say at the time whether an investigation was opened into Lesin, but it’s widely believed one was. Two weeks after the DOJ referred Lesin’s case to the FBI, in fact, Lesin stepped down as the head of Gazprom media. At the time he cited unspecified, “family reasons.” Less than a year later he was found dead in a hotel room in Washington D.C.
Three other sources, separate and apart from Steele, are also telling the FBI that Lesin was beaten to death by men working for the same powerful Russian oligarch that Steele names in his report. While not publicly confirming he cause of Lesin’s death the revelations are consistent with belief on the part of several agents within the Bureau.
“What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed News last year. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”