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Trial Begins Of Russian Officials Accused Of Hunting Rare Sheep

Sheep carcasses at the site of the fatal helicopter crash in Altai Republic in January 2009
KOSH-AGASH, Russia -- The high-profile trial of local and federal officials in Russia charged with illegally hunting endangered sheep after a deadly helicopter crash has begun, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The hearings kicked off in the Kosh-Agash district court in Russia's Altai Republic on April 13.

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

Three of the four survivors -- including former republican Prime Minister Anatoly Bannykh -- were charged with illegally hunting the rare Marco Polo mountain sheep.

Only one defendant, Moscow Institute of Economy and Legislation Deputy Director Nikolai Kapranov, was present at the April 13 hearing. Two other defendants were represented by their lawyers.

All deny engaging in any illegal hunting.

Kosh-Agash District Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Pindyk told the court that the rescue team found several dead Marco Polo sheep, as well as hunting equipment and rifles, at the site of the helicopter crash.

The trial was initiated by local nongovernmental organizations. The hearings have been postponed several times because defendants failed to show up in court. Investigators say the illegal hunting caused 900,000 rubles ($32,000) in damages to the local community.

Read more in Russian here