A onetime aide of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose body was found last year in a D.C. hotel room died of head injuries suffered in accidental falls after days of “excessive” drinking, authorities in Washington said Friday as they closed the death investigation.
Mikhail Y. Lesin, 57, a former Russian advertising executive who helped create the Kremlin’s global English-language Russia Today television network, was found dead Nov. 5 in the upscale Dupont Circle Hotel, and for much of a year, the manner of death was ruled “undetermined.”
The manner has been amended to an accident with “acute ethanol intoxication” as a contributing cause, the office of U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips said Friday. Lesin was alone in his hotel room at the time of the falls, the statement said.
The new ruling was made by the office of the D.C. chief medical examiner.
Shortly after Lesin’s body was found, his family said he died as the result of a heart attack.
More than four months later, the chief medical examiner’s office and D.C. police set off worldwide speculation when they said Lesin had suffered blunt-force injuries to his head and elsewhere on his body, although not explicitly declaring his death a criminal act.
The statement Friday said that the investigation determined from video footage, interviews and other evidence that Lesin entered his room for the final time about 10:45 a.m. Nov. 4 after days of excessive alcohol consumption and was found dead the next morning. He “sustained the injuries that resulted in his death while alone in his hotel room,” the statement said.
Lesin died of blunt-force injuries to his head, the statement said, and also suffered injuries to his neck, torso, arms and legs caused by falls.
In describing the investigation, the statement referred to “new evidence” developed in the nearly year-long investigation.
Asked about that reference, Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said, “We typically do not comment on specifics of our investigation and have no further comment on this particular matter.”
On Friday, interim D.C. police chief Peter Newsham said, “I am comfortable with the ruling being an accidental death.”
The investigation of Lesin’s death was conducted by D.C. police and the U.S. attorney’s office with assistance from the FBI, the statement said.
Lesin, who made his fortune in the advertising business in the 1990s, was an architect of the Kremlin-dominated media landscape under Putin. As minister of the press during Putin’s first term as president from 2000 to 2004, Lesin orchestrated the takeover of the independent television network NTV and oversaw government propaganda and censorship laws during the war in Chechnya. In 2005, he helped launch Russia Today, now RT, a government-funded channel that broadcasts news with a pro-Moscow slant around the world.
Known for his volatile temper, Lesin was reported to have antagonized powerful media interests, and an investigation by the anti-Putin whistleblower Alexei Navalny in 2014 revealed that Lesin owned real estate in the United States worth millions of dollars. He resigned later that year as head of Gazprom-Media, a holding company that owns several prominent pro-Kremlin TV networks, and kept a low profile until his death.
Two days before his body was found, Lesin failed to appear as expected at a $10,000-a-table fundraiser in Washington organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, whose honorees included a philanthropist and chief executive of the largest private bank in Russia.
Kremlin critics earlier this year theorized that Lesin may have been killed because officials feared that he was about to cut a deal with federal authorities investigating his land dealings in California.
However, a longtime friend and business associate of Lesin’s, Sergey Vasiliev, said in March that he believed that Lesin died after a bout of heavy drinking, an account he said he formed after speaking to the Russian Foreign Ministry and others familiar with the sequence of events.
Andrew Roth and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.