The attack on UK spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter using nerve gas earlier this month has been tied to Russia (though Russia denies it). Last July Buzzfeed published a story suggesting the 2015 death of Russia Today founder Mikhail Lesin here in the US also looked like a Russian hit. Today, Buzzfeed has a follow up on a report supporting that theory which is in the hands of the FBI. That report claims Russian state security agents hired by a Russian oligarch killed Lesin. The author of that report is former British spy Christopher Steele, though other sources tell Buzzfeed they independently gave the same information to the FBI:
Lesin’s corpse was found in a Washington, DC, hotel room on the morning of Nov. 5, 2015. The coroner determined that he had died from blunt force injuries to the head and had also sustained blunt force injuries to his neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities. After an 11-month investigation, a federal prosecutor announced in late 2016 that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an “accident,” with the coroner adding acute alcohol intoxication as a contributing cause of death, and prosecutors closed the case.
But Steele’s report — the existence of which has never before been made public — adds to a mounting body of evidence that casts doubt on the official finding on Lesin’s death. “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,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed News last year. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”
Leslin’s hotel room in Washington, DC, the one where he was found dead, had been paid for by the Department of Justice. He was set to meet with the DOJ the following day to discuss the “inner workings” of his RT network. Instead, he was found dead. Steele’s report says that was an accident. The plan was simply to beat him up.
All four of the people who read Steele’s report said it pins Lesin’s murder on a professional relationship gone lethally awry. According to the report, they said, Lesin fell out with a powerful oligarch close to Putin. Wanting to intimidate Lesin, the oligarch then contracted with Russian state security agents to beat up Lesin, the report states, according to three of the sources. The goal was not to kill Lesin, all four sources said Steele wrote, but Lesin died from the attack.
The sources could not recall what, if anything, the report said about whether Putin knew of or sanctioned the attack.
Three other individuals, including a business associate of Lesin and two intelligence officials, told BuzzFeed News that they had independently given the FBI similar information: that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by thugs operating on orders from the same oligarch Steele named.
This case seems to echo the 14 other cases Buzzfeed reported on last year. In those cases, all of which took place in the UK, police closed down the investigations, ignoring evidence which indicated the deaths could be the work of Russian assassins. In the wake of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, those cases are now, belatedly, getting a fresh look.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said police and the security services would investigate allegations of Russian state involvement in a number of deaths over recent years in Britain, a letter published on Tuesday showed.
It sounds as if the death of Mikhail Lesin also needs a second look. If Russian oligarchs tied to Putin are having people beaten and killed on U.S. soil that seems like something we need to be at least as concerned about as whether or not Russian trolls were buying Facebook ads.