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Police Investigating Death of Former Russian Press Minister in Washington, DC

Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a founder of the Russia Today news network, was found dead in a hotel on Thursday.

by Atoosa Moinzadeh
Nov 7 2015, 9:25pm

Imagen por Sergei Ilntsky/EPA

Police in Washington, DC have launched a formal investigation into the death of Mikhail Lesin, the former Russian press minister whose body was found this week at the city's Dupont Circle Hotel.

Russian media outlets quoted officials as saying the 57-year-old Lesin, a founder of the Russia Today (RT) news network, died of an apparent heart attack on Wednesday night but his body wasn't discovered until Thursday.

"Our consular officials had an opportunity to confirm that the Russian national who passed away in DC is indeed Mikhail Lesin," a spokesperson of the Russian Embassy in the United States told Sputnik News. "Out of respect to the privacy and sensitivity of the matter we are not at liberty to disclose any other information, and would ask you to refer all further requests to his family and the law enforcement officials."

A Washington, DC police spokesman confirmed to VICE News that an investigation is underway, but declined to provide additional details.

Lesin created the iconic "Vote with your heart" and "I believe, I love, I hope" campaign commercials for former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and headed the Kremlin's public relations office from 1996 to 1997. His extensive track record included serving as a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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"The president has a high appreciation for Mikhail Lesin's massive contribution to the creation of modern Russian mass media," Putin's press service said, expressing condolences to Lesin's family early Saturday.

Lesin was the head of Gazprom-Media, Russia's largest media holding company, from 2013 to 2015, and served as a Russian presidential media adviser from 2004 to 2009. He was rumored to have been involved in some of Russia's most lurid media scandals, including the creation of a tape that showed former Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov in bed with two young women.

Last year, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker sent a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the Justice Department to investigate allegations of corruption and money laundering against Lesin, claiming he unlawfully "acquired multi-million dollar assets."

RT published an obituary of Lesin that said he "believed in making Russian views heard at the international level."

"It's been a long time since I was scared by the word propaganda," the Kremlin-backed outlet quoted Lesin as saying in 2007. "We need to promote Russia internationally. Otherwise, we'd just look like roaring bears on the prowl."

Follow Atoosa Moinzadeh on Twitter: @amoinzadeh

Reuters contributed to this report