After a three-month long confrontation between the civil society and the administration due to the investigation of illegal hunting of the Red-listed Altai argali by high-standing officials, the environmentalists’ case has finally seen a small victory.
On April 21, the Investigation Committee of the Russian federal public prosecutor started legal action against the incidence of illegal hunting, and by doing so, finally answered to the very first demand voiced by nature conservation organizations already months ago.
This news appeared on the news websites only on 5 May. The day before, it was announced that the Russian Nature Surveillance had asked the Russian federal public prosecutor to start legal action against the incidence of illegal hunting and against the extermination of three Altai mountain sheep (argali). This news appeared on both Yandex.ru and Lenta.ru-websites, which shows that even though three and a half months had passed, people had not forgotten about what happened in Altai.
A letter from the Investigation Committee to Sibecocenter, dated April 29, adds some details to the story. It states that the legal action is based on the sections b and c of the first part of Article 258, which go as follows:
Article 258 Illegal hunting
Hunting is illegal if the act is carried out:
b) by using a mechanical vehicle or an air-borne vessel, explosive materials, gas or other means of mass destruction of birds or animals
c) in relation to birds and animals, hunting of which is fully prohibited…
is punished with a fine up to two hundred thousand rubles or according to the size of the salary or other source of income of the convict over the past eighteen months, or through corrective labor for up to two years, or through arrest for a period of two to four months.
As it is clear from the letter, the criminal act is not considered in the light of the second part of the article 258. It goes as follows:
Such an act, carried out by a person by utilizing his/her official position or by a group of people by a preliminary agreement or as an organized group, is punished with a fine of the size from hundred thousand to three hundred thousand rubles or according to the size of the salary or other source of income over a period of one year to two years or by deprivation of freedom for up to two years, with or without deprivation of the right to occupy certain posts or to exercise certain activities for the period of up to three years.
This means that the investigators (at least for the time being?) do not consider that the hunters were taking advantage of their official position or that they were acting according to a preliminary agreement or as an organized group. Of course the investigation has to be careful in its suppositions, but we remind that in the helicopter that was used for the hunt contained 11 persons, all of which, apart from the pilot, without a doubt had the obvious intention to take part in the hunt. Already in the very first official announcement it was recognized that the helicopter was on the flight for hunting purposes. And it is difficult to imagine that some of the people in the helicopter (not an organized group?) would not have known what exactly the hunters were after on the Altai mountain range. What comes to utilizing one’s official position, the flight within the border zone was permitted by the deputy head of the local government. The government of the Republic of Altai hardly minds so much about every hunting trip involving helicopters. And surely not all the guests coming to Altai for a hunt are accompanied by the head of the department, which answers for the observance of hunting laws in the republic. If that is not utilization of one’s official position by high-standing federal officials, then what is? And to the very chairman of the republic’s committee on protection, use and reproduction of game animals, participating in this hunt was not taking advantage of his position?
We would like to draw attention to one more detail: The action is started and directed to the deputy general prosecutor for ‘definition of jurisdiction’. This means that for the time being, it is still unknown who exactly will carry out the legal action against this obvious incidence of illegal hunting.