Russia’s Altai court closes VIP poaching case

A district court in the south Siberian Altai Republic closed a criminal case of illegal hunting of an endangered mountain sheep species due to a statute of limitations, a court spokesman said on Friday.

Three officials were charged with poaching after a helicopter they were traveling in crashed in January 2009, and dead wild rams were spotted in the wreckage. They were acquitted in May, but the republic’s Supreme Court overturned the ruling.

“A termination of criminal proceedings in connection with a statute of limitations has been issued,” the spokesman said.

A helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Chernaya Mountain in Altai, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and an environmental official.

The three survivors, the republic’s deputy prime minister Anatoly Bannykh, deputy chief of a Moscow university, Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky, were alleged to be on an illegal hunting expedition for Argali sheep. An investigation into the case was closed twice over the lack of evidence of the suspects’ involvement in poaching.

The Argali sheep is included on Russia’s list of protected species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list. Hunting wild rams has been forbidden in Russia since 1930.


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