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Rumours swirl over mysterious US death of ex-Putin aide

© Saul Loeb, AFP file picture | Former Russian media minister Mikhail Lesin was found dead in Washington DC at the beginning of November, 2015

Text by Louise NORDSTROM

Latest update : 2016-03-11

The mysterious death of a former top Kremlin aide, whose lifeless body was found in a Washington DC hotel room late last year, took a bizarre twist Thursday after an autopsy showed that he had died from blunt force trauma to the head.

Mikhail Lesin, a former Russian media minister who briefly also headed the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom-Media, was found dead at Washington DC’s Dupont Circle Hotel at the beginning of November 2015.

Russian media quoted family members as saying he had died from a heart attack and reported that he had suffered from a “prolonged unidentified illness”.

But in a statement Thursday, the US capital’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Metropolitan Police Department said Mikhail Lesin had suffered “blunt force injuries of the head,” as well as to the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities.

However, it said the manner of his death was still undetermined and the case remains under police investigation.

In a furious response to the findings, the Russian Embassy to the United States said that despite having made repeated requests for information regarding the progress of the case, it had been left in the dark and was now demanding an explanation.

“No substantial information has been provided. With regard to the document that has been released to the public today, we expect the American side to provide us with relevant official explanation,” said embassy spokeswoman Yury Melnik in an email.

In a Facebook post, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova added that if the forensic findings are confirmed, Russia will send an official request to the US “for international legal assistance”.

‘Wild Western claims’

Russia Today (RT), the English-language news service that Lesin once helped found, reported on some of the “wildest claims” that emerged in the Western media in the wake of Lesin’s death, pointing in particular to a November report published by the Daily Mail.

In the four-month-old report, the British tabloid speculated that Lesin may have been murdered on Moscow’s orders after having offered to help the FBI as an informant. The newspaper also drew parallels with the 2006 murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko at a London hotel.

Earlier this year, a British inquiry concluded that Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and who had fled Russia for Britain, died after drinking green tea laced with polonium-210.

It also said the killing had “probably” been approved by the Russian leader himself.
Russia has always denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s death, but has refused to extradite the two main suspects.

RT, which is widely viewed as a Kremlin mouthpiece, on Thursday dismissed the speculations surrounding Moscow’s involvement in Lesin’s death, saying “Western media would inevitably exploit the former Russian minister’s death to try and implicate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.”

It also cited an expert as saying Lesin was known to have dealt with oligarchs and that various parties may have been “going after him”.

Date created : 2016-03-11

  • Russia

    Former Putin aide 'died of blunt force trauma' in Washington hotel room

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  • UK - RUSSIA

    Putin 'probably approved' murder of ex-spy Litvinenko, British inquiry says

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