The Altai Republic’s Supreme Court has overruled the acquittal of poachers, two of them high-ranking officials, convicted of hunting endangered mountain sheep, and ordered a retrial with a new panel of judges.
A helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Chernaya Mountain in Altai in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and an environmental official.
The officials were allegedly on an illegal hunting expedition when the helicopter crashed. Three of the four people who survived the crash – 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 brought to trial.
The investigation into the case was closed twice over the lack of evidence of the suspects’ involvement in poaching. The court eventually acquitted them, frustrating environmentalists and animals rights activists.
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.
The case sparked public outcry after images of the helicopter’s wreckage, in which dead wild rams were clearly seen, appeared on the internet soon after the crash.