News & Politics

Another Steele Report Sheds Light on the Death of Russian Media Tycoon

Christopher Steele, the author of the Steele Dossier that alleges Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, also penned a report for the FBI that supposedly sheds light on one of the most puzzling incidents in recent history.

Mikhail Lesin was a former Russian media tycoon  who was minister of the press early in Vladimir Putin’s tenure as president. Later, he played a role in stifling Russian independent media and used thuggish tactics to acquire huge holdings in Russian media companies.

Lesin was found dead in his DC Dupont Circle Hotel room in 2015. He died as a result of head and body trauma — an “accident,” the coroner said. Authorities say that Lesin died as a result of multiple falls after going on a two-day drinking binge.

But nobody ever bought that explanation. It was 11 months before a severely redacted autopsy report was released and to this day, even with many FOIA requests and digging by reporters, the mystery surrounding Lesin’s death persists.

Steele gave the FBI a report gleaned from several Russian sources that states that Lesin was murdered unintentionally — that he had a falling out with an oligarch close to Putin who wanted to send a message to Lesin but killed him by accident. The bureau got the report from Steele as it was helping D.C. police investigate the case.

BuzzFeed has the story:

  • Steele’s report says that Lesin was bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for an oligarch close to Putin, the four sources said.
  • The thugs had been instructed to beat Lesin, not kill him, but they went too far, the sources said Steele wrote.
  • Three of the sources said that the report described the killers as Russian state security agents moonlighting for the oligarch.
  • The Steele report is not the FBI’s only source for this account of Lesin’s death: Three other people, acting independently from Steele, said they also told the FBI that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for the same oligarch named by Steele.

Even more surprising, federal prosecutors called witnesses before a sitting grand jury in 2016. It is not known what those witnesses testified to, but 150 pages of information were amassed and are being sought by numerous news outlets.

During the investigation, FBI agents reviewing hotel surveillance footage of Lesin were asked to pay particular attention to the back of his head, documents obtained through the FOIA lawsuit show. As with the police files, the FBI documents that have been released say nothing about how Lesin sustained the head injuries that killed him. But, according to those documents, the bureau found no evidence of foul play.

It appears that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic are becoming increasingly concerned about Putin’s desire to rub out his enemies no matter where they are:

US intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News they had been watching the pattern of suspected assassinations across the Atlantic with increasing alarm, and Lesin’s death intensified those fears. “It is not inconceivable that the Kremlin could use its security services in the United States as it has elsewhere,” read a report released in January by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The trail of mysterious deaths, all of which happened to people who possessed information that the Kremlin did not want made public, should not be ignored by Western countries on the assumption that they are safe from these extreme measures.”

The FBI declined to answer any questions for this story, including whether it would reopen the investigation into Lesin’s death. The DC Metropolitan Police pointed to an earlier statement that said, “We will certainly reinvestigate should additional evidence be brought to light.”

Why would the D.C. police, the FBI, and other investigative agencies cover up the murder of a prominent Russian? If U.S. law enforcement could pin the murder on Putin’s thugs, we would have to do something about it. Look what happened in the UK with the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury. Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to react which resulted in the expulsion of two dozen diplomats. The Russians countered and expelled the same number of Brits.

Reaction and response means escalation and no one wants that. Better to pretend Lesin’s death was an accident than be forced into actions that would raise tensions.

In the meantime, Putin continues his brazen disregard for international law and the sovereignty of nations by carrying out his extraterritorial assassinations with impunity. He is out of control and threatens the safety of the world with his reckless and criminal behavior.