U.S. police probing November death of former Russian Press Minister Lesin


Police are investigating whether former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who was found dead in a Washington hotel in November, was brutally assaulted before returning to the hotel, a U.S. law enforcement source said Friday.

The source familiar with the investigation said authorities are trying to determine a possible motive for the apparent attack and do not have any suspects.

U.S. authorities said Thursday that Lesin died of blunt force injuries to the head. At the time of his death, Russia’s RT television quoted family members as saying Lesin had died of a heart attack. He was 57.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Friday that U.S. officials had facilitated contact between Washington police and the Russian government.

“There is an avenue of direct communication between the police department and the Russian government,” he told reporters.

Rumors have swirled around the death of the former Putin adviser since he was found dead in his room in the Doyle Washington Hotel, which is also known as the Dupont Circle Hotel, last Nov. 5.

Lesin served as President Vladimir Putin’s press minister from 1999 to 2004. He was named head of state-controlled Gazprom-Media in 2013 but resigned the following year and moved to Los Angeles.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Lesin for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act. The senator, a Republican from Mississippi, questioned how Lesin was able to purchase $28 million worth of properties in Los Angeles after leaving the Russian government.

The Justice Department has no open investigation of Lesin, a U.S. Law enforcement official said Friday. The official declined to comment on the investigation into Lesin’s death.

On the night he died, Lesin was scheduled to attend a gala at a top Washington hotel honoring Russian billionaire and philanthropist Pyotr Aven, Radio Free Europe reported. But Lesin never arrived at the dinner.

As of 2013, Lesin and his wife, Valentina, lived in a lavish Beverly Hills home about 10 miles (16 km) from the home of Mikhail’s son, Anton Lessine, a Hollywood producer, according to court records.

The son’s recent film credits include “Fury,” a World War II movie starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, and “Rock the Kasbah,” a feature starring Bill Murray.

The home owned by the former Putin adviser has an area of 5,500 sq. feet (510 sq. meters), has five bedrooms and six bathrooms, has an assessed value of $4.3 million, according to property records.

In 2013, a housekeeper who worked for both Lesin and his son filed suit against both men and their wives for various violations of labor law.

Lesin and his son ran their business interests partly through a company called the Dastel Corp., with both men serving as corporate officers, according to court filings.

A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Dastel said he had no comment on the company’s business or Lesin’s involvement in it.

The Beverly Hills home where Lesin and his wife lived is owned by a holding company, Java Drive Inc.

The registered agent for the holding company, a Los Angeles CPA named Stephen Rousso, said in a phone interview that he had not heard of Mikhail Lesin.