Monday, January 11, 2016

Ready to Snitch

The Daily Beast:
all signs point to the former Kremlin propaganda boss cutting a deal with the FBI.

Was Putin’s Media Chief Ready to Snitch Before He Dropped Dead?

...why did Lesin, who was 57, tempt fate by entering the United States this past November?

Adding to the mystery, the precise cause of Lesin’s untimely demise hasn’t been revealed. Almost immediately, the broadcasting outfit RT (Russia Today), widely seen as a Kremlin mouthpiece, reported that Lesin died of a “heart attack,” citing an unnamed “family member.”

But a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C., police department told The Daily Beast that Lesin’s death is still under investigation. And although a coroner performed an autopsy nearly two months ago, the police aren’t saying how he died. That’s an unusually long time not to publicly state a cause of death

...Gazprom took over NTV anyway--by force--and in 2013 Lesin became the head of Gazprom-Media, an actual state-run media organization. RT, which reported the cause of Lesin’s death before a medical examiner had even seen his body, merely receives funding from the state.

...Lesin “may also have close business ties with individuals subject to U.S. sanctions,” as well as organizations, including  Bank Rossiya, which is closely linked to Gazprom, and the bank’s owner, Yury Kovalchuk, a billionaire who ranks among Russia’s richest people, is reportedly close to Putin personally, and was sanctioned by the Treasury Department after Russia invaded Crimea.

About two weeks after the Justice Department informed Wicker that the allegations against Lesin were referred to the FBI, Lesin resigned as the head of Gazprom-Media, citing unspecified “family reasons.” Kara-Murza, the journalist and Putin critic, who himself fell mysteriously ill last summer, has directly linked the department’s announcement to Lesin’s stepping down and said it showed that the threat of sanctions and prosecution could be used to bring down corrupt Russian officials.

“He also underestimated his rivals,” The Moscow Times wrote. “The heads of three of Russia's major TV channels complained to President Putin that Lesin had begun behaving as if he was their boss, as he had been while press minister.”

The walls were closing in on Lesin--in Washington and in Moscow. Perhaps Lesin’s trip to that DuPont Circle hotel was his first step towards a new life. But if he’d become an enemy of Putin and his friends, even the FBI might not have been able to save him.

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