Almost two years after his body was found inside of a Washington D.C. hotel room, Mikhail Lesin’s death continues to bring speculation that he was murdered as part of a hit by the Russian government.
Lesin was an adviser to Russia President Vladimir Putin and rose to be one of the country’s most powerful media executives. But the circumstances surrounding his unexpected death in November 2015 remain ominous.
Because of that, BuzzFeed News announced July 28 that it submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Justice to uncover documents in the investigation of his death, which has been ruled an accident.
Here’s what you need to know about Lesin:
1. Lesin Was Found Dead Hours Before a Reported Meeting With the DOJ
Lesin, 57-years old at the time, was set to have a meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice the day after his death, two FBI agents told BuzzFeed. The report said that the DOJ paid for his hotel room, and the interview was to speak about the workings of RT, a state-run media network that Lesin founded.
He was staying at The Dupont Circle Hotel in downtown D.C., and his body was found inside of his hotel room the morning of November 5, 2015. The body was found at the hotel without any identification on him, and an initial police report described him as an “unknown victim” that was found in the hotel room booked under his name.
It took a number of days until the Russian Embassy in the U.S. successfully identified him.
After he was positively identified, Lesin’s family and Russian media said that he had died as the result of a heart attack.
“The president appreciates the enormous contribution made by Mikhail Lesin to the formation of modern Russian media,” a statement released by Putin after his death said.
According to law enforcement, there were no “obvious” signs of forced entry into his room or foul play, and security at the hotel said they didn’t see anything suspicious. But officials said that surveillance video from the hotel appeared to show Lesin “disheveled” when he returned to the hotel.
2. Months Later, His Cause of Death Was Changed to ‘Blunt Force Injuries to the Head’
After Lesin’s his death, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department launched an investigation, and Russian officials worked with those in the U.S. to figure out the circumstances that surrounded his mysterious death.
On March 10, 2016, the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Officer ruled that Lesin’s death was due to “blunt force injuries to the head,” not a heart attack as first suspected.
Beverly Fields, who worked in the office, told Mashable that Lesin sustained “blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities,” adding that the investigation was still ongoing.
The medical examiner and police didn’t declare his death a criminal act, but no longer considered it of natural causes.
One official told The New York Times that “some sort of altercation” occurred before Lesin returned back to his hotel room.
In October, a federal prosecutor announced that Lesin’s death was changed from “undetermined” to “accident” with acute ethanol intoxication contributing toward his death. The prosecutor said that Lesin died “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.”
Authorities claim that Lesin entered his hotel room during the morning and died as the result of several drunken falls.
The DOJ closed the investigation on his death following the announcement.
3. Several FBI Agents Told BuzzFeed Lesin Was ‘Bludgeoned to Death’
In BuzzFeed’s report announcing it filed a FOIA request, it cited two FBI agents and a U.S. intelligence officer who claimed Lesin was bludgeoned to death.
“None of these officials were directly involved in the government’s investigation, but they said they learned about it from colleagues who were,” the report claimed.
One of the FBI agents told the news outlet that Lesin was “beaten to death.”
“There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can’t get into,” the agent said. “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. Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”
An investigation that BuzzFeed launched two years ago had found evidence that it claimed showed Russia was directly tied to at least 14 deaths on British soil that the government mostly ignored.
In the investigation, U.S. intelligence officials said that those deaths were linked to Russian security services or mafias/gangs.
4. Lesin Was Heavily Involved in Russian Media
Lesin was born in Moscow to a family that was involved in military construction.
When he was growing up, he lived in Mongolia while his father worked on various projects. From 1976-78, Lesin was in the Soviet Army and the Soviet Naval Infantry.
Lesin then attended the Moscow Engineering and Construction Institute and graduated in 1984 as a civil engineer. Following his schooling, he worked in numerous engineering positions in Moscow before finding a career in media.
Starting in 1988, he worked as a deputy director of production for TV programs in Russia and then was hired to be a director of youth creative production for a TV company. He also directed a TV show in the late 1980s, his biography said.
In the early 1990s, he started an advertising agency that would come to be a multi-billion dollar company known as Video International. To this day, it’s still one of Russia’s biggest advertising firms. However, he left the firm just a few years after starting it to serve in political positions. He played a role in the parliamentary elections of 1995 and then the presidential elections in 1996. He was the one who provided the president’s weekly radio address to citizens.
Starting in 1997, Lesin served as the deputy chairman for VGTRK, a company that brought state-run TV together.
On June 6, 1999, Lesin was appointed to run the Ministry of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation by then-Prime Minister Stepashin. Once Putin came on as PM, he kept Lesin as the minister and also had him play a key role in the parliamentary election in 2000 and also the presidential election in 2000.
From 2004 until 2009, Lesin served as the adviser to the President of the Russian Federation for mass media relations under Putin.
One of Lesin’s biggest accomplishments was establishing Russia Today (RT), a news network that mirrors CNN and BBC, only being funded by the government.
5. Lesin & His Family Moved to America in 2011
In 2011, Lesin and his family moved to Beverly Hills, California, where they took part in many leisurely activities such as fishing in the ocean and helping his son start a career in the entertainment industry.
In 2013, Lesin moved back to Russia to run Gazprom-Media, a state-run media company that calls itself one of the biggest media groups in Russia and Europe. But he resigned from the company due to “family reasons” in 2014 and retired, moving back to California to be with his family.
According to media reports, Lesin quit the job at Gazprom-Media “in a cloud of secrecy,” adding that he owed a large sum of money to Yuri V. Kovalchuk, a man whose business ties are even closer to Putin. He has an estimated net worth of around $1 billion and is the largest shareholder in Rossiya Bank. He’s been known as Puting’s “personal cashier.”
Some reports suggested that Lesin decided to move to America to flee Russia as a “self-exile,” something that’s certainly not rare under Putin.