Poaching a dangerous pastime for Russian officials lately
Photo: www.rusadventures.ru

Poaching a dangerous pastime for Russian officials lately

15 May, 06:33 PM

Governor of Irkutsk Region Igor Yesipovsky died in a helicopter crash not far from the shores of Lake Baikal in the early morning hours of May 10, during the Victory Day holiday weekend. The three other passengers on board the helicopter – the governor’s chief of staff Mikhail Shtonda, the governor’s bodyguard and the pilot – were also killed. Officially, the governor was on a business trip at the time to examine a future tourism zone. But the circumstances surrounding the crash were rather mysterious.

The cause of the crash unclear, since the craft seemed to be in good working order and weather conditions were favorable for flight. The flight had not been registered with local aviation authorities. The crash occurred inside a national park near an area known to be popular among wealthy bear hunters. Speculation quickly arose that the governor was on an illegal hunting trip. When guns were found at the crash site, that suggestion gained credence. According to the local website babr.ru, which cited a law enforcement source, one of the guns found was registered to a park official.

Hunting season began on March 24, so hunting in and of itself was not illegal. Hunting in a private helicopter in a national park without a license would be illegal, however. Officially, the governor was on a business trip…

Sadly, the Irkutsk governor and his entourage were not the only Russian officials to die in a helicopter accident recently. On January 9 of this year, a helicopter belonging to Gazpromavia, the corporate airline of the state natural gas company, was reported missing in Altai, southern Siberia.

There were eight passengers and three crew members on board. Among the passengers were presidential representative in the State Duma Alexander Kosopkin, deputy prime minister of the Altai Republic Anatoly Bannykh, chairman of the Altai Republic’s committee on wildlife Viktor Kaimin, State Duma member Nikolai Kapranov and other notables.

Over 200 people and 12 aircraft searched for the wreckage of the helicopter for two days, Lenta.ru reported. The helicopter had crashed in a snowy valley 70 km. from its destination, the isolated town of Kosh-Agach. Four people were found seriously injured; the others had perished. Kosopkin and Kaimin were among the dead.

The survivors of the crash initially stated that the helicopter had experienced engine failure. Kommersant newspaper soon published an interview with an unidentified survivor in which he stated that the craft had crashed while swooping down on a mountain goat so one of the passengers could shoot it.

The conclusions of the official investigation were not made public when it issued its report on January 16. Head of the Altai Republic Alexander Berdnikov had already stated that the helicopter passengers were hunting legally.

Russian World Wildlife Fund head Igor Chestin pointed out to the press, however, that hunting season had long been closed. Furthermore, he noted, if the hunters had shot from the helicopter, that would also be illegal. Worst of all, the three dead animals seen in photographs from the crash site were clearly a species of mountain goat known as arkhar. The arkhar is an endangered species. Between 200 and 300 arkhars are left in Russia. It is illegal to hunt arkhar.

A criminal case was initiated against surviving copilot of the helicopter Maxim Kolbin for violation of air safety rules in February. Bannykh, who also survived the crash, resigned from his post at the beginning of March. On May 4, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case for poaching in connection with the incident.

The cases of poaching by high-ranking Russian officials were uncovered only because they resulted in human tragedy. One is left to wonder how often it goes undetected.

Tags: poaching

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