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Former Russian Officials Cleared Of Hunting Protected Sheep

Two slain argali sheep at the site of the fatal helicopter crash in Altai region in January 2009
KOSH-AGASH, Russia -- Three former Russian officials who survived a deadly helicopter crash have been acquitted on charges that they were illegally hunting at the time, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Their helicopter crashed in the Altai Republic in southwestern Siberia in January 2009, killing seven of the 11 passengers on board, including Aleksandr Kosopkin, President Dmitry Medvedev's representative in the State Duma.

The rescue team found several dead Marco Polo sheep and hunting equipment and rifles at the site of the crash.

Three of the four survivors, including former republican Prime Minister Anatoly Bannykh, were charged with illegally hunting the protected animals.

They went on trial on April 13 in the Kosh-Agash district court.

The prosecutor asked the judge to sentence the defendants to one year in jail.

The judge ruled on May 23 that the investigators and the local NGOs who brought the charges failed to present adequate evidence and documentation to support the charges.

The hearings have been postponed several times when the defendants failed to show up in court.

Investigators estimate the financial damage from killing the animals at 900,000 rubles ($32,000).

Read more in Russian here