Mikhail Lesin, a prominent Russian millionaire with high-level ties to the Kremlin, was found dead inside a Washington hotel on Thursday. A Russian official and a senior U.S. official told ABC News the former head of media affairs for the Russian government had been staying at Dupont Circle Hotel when he was found dead.
Mikhail Lesin had recently been accused of curtailing Russia’s press freedoms. Why the long-time adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Washington is unclear. On Thursday, U.S. authorities notified the Russian embassy in Washington that Mikhail Lesin had died.
Russian officials are now working with American authorities to determine the circumstances of his death, the Russian embassy told ABC News in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police Department started an investigation into Lesin’s cause of death, as well. Citing the ongoing investigation of the former Russian millionaire, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson said they would only confirm the department is conducting a “death investigation.”
According to coverage by the Associated Press, Metropolitan Police Officer Sean Hickman said officers were called to the Dupont Circle Hotel at close to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday and found a man dead. The Russian embassy in Washington confirmed that man was Mikhail Lesin.
A Russian embassy spokesperson told Sputnik, another Russian state-run news outlet, about Lesin’s sudden death.
“Our consular officials had an opportunity to confirm that the Russian national who passed away in DC is indeed Mikhail Lesin. Out of respect to the privacy and sensitivity of the matter we are not at liberty to disclose any other information, and would ask you to refer all further requests to his family and the law enforcement officials.”
Mikhail Lesin is recognized with creating the English-language news network Russia Today. Now known as RT, and backed by the Russian government, the network “provides an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints an international audience with the Russian viewpoint,” according to its website.
Last year, one U.S. lawmaker claimed Mikhail Lesin “led the Kremlin’s efforts to censor Russia’s independent television outlets.”
Recently, U.S. Republican Senator from Mississippi Roger Wicker called on the Justice Department to launch an investigation into Mikhail Lesin over allegations of money laundering and corruption.
ABC News reports that Sen. Wicker wrote a letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General at that time, claiming that Lesin had “acquired multi-million dollar assets” in Europe and the United States “during his tenure as a civil servant,” including multiple residences in Los Angeles worth $28 million.
An excerpt from Sen. Wicker’s letter to the U.S. Attorney General reads as follows.
“That a Russian public servant could have amassed the considerable funds required to acquire and maintain these assets in Europe and the United States raises serious questions.”
At the present time, whether the FBI ever began an investigation concerning Sen. Wicker’s allegations about Mikhail Lesin is unclear. However, last year, the FBI was considering an investigation into the retired media executive based on several multi-million dollar real estate purchases in California, according to a report by the New York Daily News.
Mikhail Lesin often traveled with Russian President Vladimir Putin on official trips. In 2013, he became head of Gazprom-Media Holding, the state-controlled media giant that describes itself as one of the largest media groups in Russia and Europe. The following year, reports are Lesin resigned due to family reasons.
Mikhail Lesin’s family told Russian state media, RIA Novosti, the 57-year-old multi-millionaire died of a heart stroke. According to an article in RT, Mikhail Lesin was born in Moscow on July 11, 1958. Lesin graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in Civil Engineering.
Mikhail Lesin also served as Russia’s Minister of Press, Television and Radio from 1999 to 2004, and was a presidential media adviser from 2004 to 2009.
[Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]