Calls for Poaching Probe Grow

Altapress.ruRemains of what conservationalists described as a protected argali sheep, foreground right, at the crash site.
The state environmental watchdog said Thursday that it would ask prosecutors to investigate whether senior federal and regional officials were hunting endangered animals when their helicopter crashed last week in the Altai region, killing seven.

The announcement by the Altai regional branch of the Federal Inspection Service for Natural Resources Use follows accusations by conservationists that the officials, including the Kremlin's envoy to the State Duma, were hunting an endangered species of wild sheep when the Mi-171 helicopter crashed Jan. 9.

Inspectors will ask the Siberian Federal District branch of the Investigative Committee on Friday to examine whether the expedition was hunting illegally, Yury Ivanov, the state watchdog's regional spokesman, told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview.

The watchdog will call for a criminal investigation if violations are found, Ivanov said. "It's at an early stage," he said. "There's still a lot that's unclear."

Alexander Kosopkin, President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy to the Duma, was killed in the crash. State television coverage of Kosopkin's wake late Wednesday made no mention of the illegal hunting allegations, which have been covered widely even in Kremlin-friendly newspapers such as Izvestia.

A photograph of the crash site published by the web site Altapress.ru showed carcasses of what conservationists said were protected argali sheep lying next to fragments of the helicopter.

Ivanov said inspectors were appealing to prosecutors not on the basis of the photograph but rather "field work" by his staff.

Oleg Mitvol, the outspoken deputy head of Federal Inspection Service for Natural Resources Use, also called for an investigation Thursday.

"It's very sad that the helicopter crash caused people's deaths, but it's essential to carry out a thorough investigation of the circumstances of this accident," Mitvol said, Interfax reported.

A spokesman for the Altai regional government told Ekho Moskvy radio station on Thursday that the officials had licenses to hunt mountain goats and Siberian stags.

Killed in the crash along with Kosopkin was Sergei Livishin, a senior member of the presidential administration; Viktor Kaymin, a senior Altai environmental official; Gorno-Altaisk aircraft division head Vladimir Podoprigora; and Vasily Vyalkov, the frontman of the regional music band Armanka.

Survivors included Nikolai Kopranov, an adviser to the Duma's Economic Policy Committee, and Boris Belinsky, a Moscow entrepreneur.