Western media reports he was likely murdered for being an FBI informant.
There are even separate allegations that Lesin may still be alive, with his demise faked by the US authorities.
Mikhail Lesin, 57, was announced last weekend to have been found dead in the US capital. Lesin was found dead at 11:30 am on November 6 while staying on an upper floor at the $240-a-night Dupont Circle Hotel, seen as modest for his multimillionaire lifestyle.
The death from a ‘heart attack’ has led to a swirl of speculation that he was murdered on Moscow’s orders after offering to help the FBI. There are even separate allegations that Lesin may still be alive, with his demise faked by the US authorities. According to this version, he is being kept safe as part of a witness protection scheme, while spilling to the FBI all he knows on Putin’s Russia.
In the U.S., Lesin’s wealth was under scrutiny. In July 2014, a few months after U.S.-Russia relations were marred by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Senator Roger Wicker requested a Justice Department investigation into whether Lesin had violated international anti-corruption and money-laundering rules.
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As reported by Moscow Times in their article titled The Mysterious Death of the Man Behind Putin’s Media Machine:
Wicker said Lesin owned property worth $28 million in Los Angeles, where his son, Anton Lessine, works in Hollywood and has produced films including the Brad Pitt feature “Fury” and “Fading Gigolo,” starring Woody Allen. Lesin’s daughter also lives in the U.S., where she works for RT.
It is unclear whether the Justice Department or the FBI began to probe Lesin’s affairs. Both departments either declined to comment or did not respond. But Wicker’s request has fed speculation about whether Lesin was in Washington to cut a deal with U.S. authorities — some say he was killed by enemies to silence him; others say his death was faked as part of a witness protection scheme to keep him safe.
Nicknamed the ‘Bulldozer’, Lesin was one of the key props of the Putin presidency, personally masterminding a wide-ranging media crackdown which has left the vast majority of Russian TV stations and newspapers obedient to the Kremlin.
As press minister he forced media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky to cede control of television station NTV while Gusinsky sat in a jail cell. In 2005, he helped create Russia Today, now RT, a television network that broadcasts Russia’s point of view in multiple languages and aims to undermine Western news narratives. Afterward, he served as an adviser to the Kremlin.
Most people contacted by The Moscow Times were wary of commenting on Lesin. But those who agreed to talk said he may have pushed too hard for power while at Gazprom Media, alienating powerful colleagues and falling out with Yury Kovalchuk, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin and a major shareholder in the company, from whom Lesin may have borrowed money.
In late 2014, Lesin picked a fight with Alexei Venediktov, the long-serving and well-connected editor of liberal radio station Echo Moskvy, in which Gazprom Media has a majority stake. In a dispute over the firing of one of the station’s journalists, Lesin was forced to back down.
Lesin is said to have owned property worth $28 million in Los Angeles, a rumored focus of the supposed FBI investigation, and two adult children who live in America. Lesin’s company the Dastel Corporation bought a 13,000 sq ft Beverly Hills home in August 2011 for $13.8 million and a 10,600 square foot property in Brentwood for $9 million in 2012, it was reported by the DailyMail.
Lesin was also rumored to have played a key role in the creation of a secret tape compromising former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov. Skuratov was seen in bed with two women, claimed to be prostitutes, forcing the resignation of a man who was probing alleged corruption in then president Boris Yeltsin’s circle.
Human rights activist Pavel Chikov claimed the death of a man with an intimate knowledge of Putin’s circle, was suspicious, stating:
‘It would be right to assume that Lesin, who knows quite a lot, was ready for a deal within the FBI’s investigation, which would make his position better. You don’t normally go to Washington for treatment or for business but to communicate with officials. There are not enough grounds to speak about murder. He could have been nervous. He may have had health issues. It could have been suicide. But anyway, it smells fishy.
Prominent commentator Sergey Parkhomenko said of Lesin’s death: ‘To be honest, I wouldn’t rule out the option of a program for witness protection.’
Whether Lesin died of heart attack or was murdered or is still alive is a question only to be answered through a thorough and unbiased investigation; however with the mini Cold War intensifying and now with Russia making an exclusive offer to India to replace Turkey in the Russian market this seems highly unlikely.