Mikhail Lesin death: Vladimir Putin's propaganda chief reportedly flew out of LA 40 days after his death

Alexei Navalny says the incident 'smells of a witness protection programme'

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The Independent Online

A former aide to Vladimir Putin could still be alive, a Russian opposition leader has claimed. 

Mikhail Lesin, a former Kremlin propaganda chief, was found dead in a hotel room in Washington DC five months ago following what US medical authorities said were blunt force injuries to the head. 

But prominent opposition activist Alexei Navalny now says American border crossing records show the Russian left the US on a flight from Los Angeles in December 2015 - 40 days after his reported death on 5 November. 

Mr Navalny told the Daily Mail: "It smells of witness protection programme and a stage death [sic].

"I don't know how to explain it. I exclude a mistake in the database. We had identical certificates on him when he was alive and right after his death - or "death." The last record was absent then. Now it's there.

"Perhaps it was his clone, or his ghost, or himself alive. Perhaps it was his secret brother.

"The fact is that on 15 December 2015 somebody with Mikhail Lesin's passport crossed state border of America and that didn't raise suspicions either with airline's representatives, nor with state border control."

On Thursday, the state-funded news channel Russia Today - which Mr Lesin helped create - quoted an unnamed family member as claiming he had died from a heart attack following a lengthy illness. 

But Washington DC’s chief medical examiner said that an autopsy revealed the 57-year-old had suffered severe blunt force injuries to his head as well as extensive trauma to his neck, arms, legs and torso. 

His body was discovered at a $240 dollar a night hotel in Dupoint Circle - just a few streets away from the White House - after he failed to attend a gala honouring Russian billionaire and philanthropist Pyotr Aven.

Officially, his cause of death has been classified as “uncertain” but the New York Times reports that he appeared to have had “some sort of altercation that happened before he returned to his room”. 

Mr Lesin served as President Vladimir Putin’s press adviser between 1999 and 2004.

He was appointed as head of state-controlled Gazprom-Media in 2013 but resigned in 2014 to move to Los Angeles. 

US Senator Roger F.Wicker asked the Department of Justice to investigate Mr Lesin in 2014 on suspicion of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices act after he questioned how he was able to purchase $28m worth of property in Los Angeles after leaving the Russian government. 

The Justice Department did not have an open investigation into Mr Lesin's activites at the time of his death, according to a US law enforcement official who declined to comment on his death. 

Additional reporting by Reuters