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    Russian officials cleared of poaching charges

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    A court in southern Siberia's Altai Republic on Monday acquitted three high-ranking officials whose hunting of endangered animals led to a deadly helicopter crash two years ago.

    A court in southern Siberia's Altai Republic on Monday acquitted three high-ranking officials whose hunting of endangered animals led to a deadly helicopter crash two years ago.

    Judge Nikolai Lubenitsky said the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants' guilt. He also said all the three men could claim compensation for damages sustained as a result of the prosecution.

    A Mi-17 helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Altai's Chernaya mountain in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president's envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and a federal environmental official.

    It was subsequently alleged that the officials had been hunting endangered mountain sheep.

    Four people survived the crash, including the republic's deputy prime minister, Anatoly Bannykh, who resigned after the crash; deputy head of the Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky.

    The three officials were charged with illegal hunting and faced up to two years in prison if found guilty.

    KOSH-AGACH (Altai Republic), May 23 (RIA Novosti)

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