Moscow Times: Prosecutors Investigate Altai Hunt [2009]

Prosecutors Investigate Altai Hunt
06 May 2009/The Moscow Times

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they have opened an investigation into senior federal and regional officials purportedly hunting illegally from a helicopter in January when the aircraft crashed in the Altai region, killing seven.

The four survivors of the Jan. 9 crash, in which the Kremlin’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, was killed, face up to two years in prison if charged and convicted of poaching.

The Investigative Committee has been tasked with leading the probe, Prosecutor General’s Office spokeswoman Marina Gridneva said Tuesday, Interfax reported.

The suspects in the case could include the survivors of the crash, among them Nikolai Kopranov, an adviser to the Duma’s Economic Policy Committee, and former Altai Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Bannykh.

Bannykh resigned from his post in early March amid the scandal.

Allegations of poaching by the hunting expedition aboard the Mi-171 helicopter have received wide coverage even in government-friendly media outlets.

Conservationists say photographs from the crash site prove that the officials were hunting endangered argali sheep. The wild sheep is one of Russia’s rarest animals, and hunting it is punishable by up to two years in prison. The photographs prompted ecologists to press prosecutors to investigate whether the officials were hunting illegally when their helicopter went down.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Tuesday that “environmental laws should be obeyed” by everyone, “irrespective” of their positions, RIA-Novosti reported.

Also killed in the Jan. 9 crash were Sergei Livishin, a senior member of the presidential staff; Viktor Kaymin, a senior Altai environmental official; Gorno-Altaisk aircraft division head Vladimir Podoprigora; Vasily Vyalkov, the frontman of the regional band Armanka; and helicopter pilots Alexei Bayandin and Alexander Vertei.

Kopranov and a Moscow businessman, Boris Belinsky, were seriously injured. Bannykh and the third pilot, Maxim Kolbin, suffered minor injuries.