Altai court to re-examine VIP poaching case in mid-September

A district court in the south Siberian Altai Republic will re-examine the charges against officials starting from September 15, suspected of hunting an endangered mountain sheep species.

The three officials were charged with illegal hunting after a helicopter they were travelling in crashed in January 2009, and dead wild rams were spotted in the wreckage. They were acquitted this May, but the republic’s Supreme Court overturned the ruling.

“A court session on illegal hunting near the Chernaya mountain on January 9, 2009… is scheduled for September 15, 9:00 local time [2:00 GMT],” a court spokesman said.

Defense lawyers say investigators failed to prove that it were the three officials who shot the animals, not the other people onboard.

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.

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 the 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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