VIP poachers go back on trial

The Supreme Court in Altai region is reviewing the case of a VIP helicopter hunt that ended in tragedy and controversy.

The judge has revoked the acquittal of three alleged poachers who survived a helicopter crash in 2009 that killed the deputy head of the region and six others.

The suspects were acquitted of illegally hunting in May this year. Following a year and a half of litigation, the court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that the officials were guilty of actual poaching.

Back in 2009, a group of hunters hired a Mi-171 helicopter to allegedly shoot argali, a type of Altai mountain sheep listed in both the Russian and international red books of endangered species.

The group included high-ranking officials, among them the deputy head of the Altai Republic, the director of Moscow’s top construction company Inteko and the director of a Moscow institute.

In the middle of the hunt, the helicopter crashed, killing seven participants and injuring four. The incident provoked a huge public outcry after pictures showing the carcasses of rare mountain sheep were found at the crash site.

Environmentalists demanded strict punishments for the high-ranking poachers, but it turned out to be too difficult to persuade the court to find the “big people” guilty of anything.

The penalty for poaching is up to two years in prison, but as the case has technically expired in law, it is likely those involved will walk free whatever the verdict.

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