- Itar Tass/Reuters
- Former British spy Christopher Steele gave the FBI a report that claims the 2015 death of a Russian media czar in Washington, DC was the result of a deadly beating by Russian state security officers.
- The death had previously been ruled an accident by police investigators.
- The victim, Mikhail Lesin, founded the state-funded pro-Russia network RT.
- The alleged murder took place days before Lesin was supposed to meet with Justice Department investigators.
According to a report given to the FBI, the suspicious 2015 death of a major player in Russian media was not an accident as was originally reported, but rather the result of a beating by hired thugs that went wrong, according to BuzzFeed.
The report was apparently written by former British spy Christopher Steele, who is most famous for writing a dossier about President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that was released in January of last year.
Steele wrote the other report before he started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, and claimed that Mikhail Lesin, who founded the state-funded Russian network RT, was killed after a Russian oligarch whom Lesin had fallen out with ordered him to be beaten.
Lesin was found dead in his DuPont Circle hotel in Washington, DC on the morning of November 5, 2015. Almost a year later, in late 2016, the Washington, DC police closed their investigation, concluding that Lesin died after a series of drunken falls.
Steele had been a trusted source for the FBI and other agencies for years on all Russia-related matters, and it remains unclear how federal authorities used his information.
According to those close to him, Lesin, who was reportedly nicknamed “the Bulldozer” during his work as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press minister, was indeed known to go on alcoholic binges. But an FBI agent who spoke with the publication said it was no secret within the bureau that the Russian government had been behind his murder.
“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,” the agent told BuzzFeed in 2017. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”
A former CIA intelligence officer echoed the agent’s statement.
“It’s really hard to imagine that it was an innocent death,” he said. “Everybody I know who’s a professional and dealt with Russia – the immediate assumption is that he was murdered.”
Key facts from Steele’s report and the details of the police probe
The DC Metropolitan Police department said in a statement that it would “certainly reinvestigate should additional evidence be brought to light.”
Here are the key points that BuzzFeed has uncovered about Lesin’s death and the subsequent investigation:
- The oligarch who hired people to beat up Lesin did not intend for him to die, but the assault apparently went too far.
- Lesin’s death took place just before he was slated to sit down for an interview with the Justice Department, which wanted to speak to him about the workings of RT.
- Three other individuals besides Steele told the FBI that Lesin had been murdered by Russian security agents.
- The police department released a 58-page report on Lesin’s death in December that had significant redactions and made no mention of the coroner’s findings that Lesin had died of blunt force trauma all over his body.
- The hotel security footage from a camera outside Lesin’s room that should have recorded three critical hours before he died was found to be defective. The Metropolitan Police refused to tell BuzzFeed whether they had ever managed to review this footage.
These findings about Lesin’s death come on the heels of international outrage of the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter in the United Kingdom. UK authorities blamed the Russian government for the attack. Numerous countries, including the US, expelled Russian diplomats over the incident this week.