GORNO-ALTAISK, September 14 - RAPSI. The retrial of high ranking officials charged with hunting endangered animals during an ill-fated helicopter flight may be postponed, the court's press secretary told RIA Novosti.

A Mi-171 helicopter (Mi-8 modification) carrying high-ranking officials crashed in the vicinity of Chornaya Mountain in January 2009, killing seven passengers. Of the four passengers that survived the crash, three stood trial for illegally poaching endangered Argali Sheep.

Photographs of the crash site were published on the Internet, showing Argali Sheep carcasses strewn amidst helicopter debris. The photographs caused a massive public outcry, especially since the animals are on Russian and international endangered species lists. The sheep are considered sacred by the local indigenous population.
An Altai district court acquitted the three accused for lack of evidence on May 23, 2010.

The prosecutor's office filed a cassation appeal of the acquittal. The Altai Supreme Court satisfied the appeal and remanded the case for review on August 11.
According to the court's press secretary, defendant Anatoli Bannykh applied Tuesday night to postpone the trial due to poor health.

The court will consider the application at its September 15 session at 9:00 am (6:00 MT), the court press secretary said.

The defendants have denied shooting the endangered Argali sheep from the helicopter, and maintain that they were charged merely because they were onboard the helicopter. They allege that investigators have failed to produce evidence of them personally having shot the sheep.

The local indigenous population expressed its gratitude over the Altai Supreme Court decision to overturn the officials' acquittal. Many have stated their desire for justice to be served.

Argali hunting has been prohibited in Russia since 1930.

Researchers estimate that there are only 4,500-5,500 Argali Sheep in the world, out of which about 1,600 inhabit Russian and Mongolian border areas.