BuzzFeed News announced Friday that it has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over information on the 2015 death of former Russian media czar Mikhail Lesin.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Lesin was found dead in his hotel room at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 5, 2015. Lesin’s death was officially ruled an accident — the result of falling down drunk “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” But based on new evidence that has surfaced, some members of the FBI believe that Lesin was murdered, according to BuzzFeed News.
The website reports that the government is withholding an FBI investigative file, which “includes critical evidence ranging from surveillance tapes to witness interviews” on the 2016 investigation into Lesin’s mysterious death. BuzzFeed has subsequently filed a lawsuit “to pry that information loose.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin hired Lesin as his media czar during his first term, reports BuzzFeed. Prior to that, Lesin ran an advertising agency and acted as media adviser for the previous president, Boris Yeltsin. As Putin’s adviser, Lesin “muzzled anti-Putin critics by helping to consolidate control over the country’s mass media under the Kremlin,” according to BuzzFeed. Lesin later became Putin’s senior presidential adviser and founded the state-run media channel, Russia Today (RT).
In 2012, Lesin took over two outlets (Gazprom Media and ProfMedia), which according to BuzzFeed, “was seen by opposition critics as another effort by the Kremlin to crack down on independent voices in the media.”
Lesin’s relationship with the Putin administration reportedly turned sour around 2014. The former media mogul went into hiding abroad “once he lost his protection [from Putin],” fearing he would be killed, a U.S. intelligence officer told BuzzFeed.
Lesin made arrangements with the U.S. DOJ and the FBI, who had invited him to D.C. “to interview him about the inner workings of RT.” Lesin died the night before that interview.
According to a separate investigation by BuzzFeed News, new “explosive evidence” links Russia to “14 suspicious deaths on British soil that the UK government had largely ignored.” Now, BuzzFeed says that some American officials fear that Lesin’s death could be evidence that the Kremlin is “doing here what they do with some regularity in London.” Both the FBI and DOJ have declined BuzzFeed’s requests for comment.