Stolen Tyrannosaurus bones fetches US$1m
The President of Mongolia is demanding America returns a 70-million year old Tyrannosaurus Bataar—an eight-foot-tall, 24-foot-long cousin of the T-Rex—that he believes was smuggled out from the Gobi desert.
President Elbegdorj Tsakhia wants the skeleton back after it was auctioned off for US$1.05 million by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. The buyer was never disclosed, but the man who acquired the fossil and offered it to Heritage said he's been unfairly labelled as a smuggler.
"I'm just a guy in Gainesville, Florida trying to support my family, not some international bone smuggler," commercial palaeontologist Eric Prokopi said in a statement. "It's been claimed that I misrepresented what was being imported and didn’t properly declare its value. I can wholeheartedly say the import documents are not fraudulent."
A US government lawsuit filed on behalf of Mongolia said the customs forms filed when the skeleton was imported incorrectly stated the country of origin was Great Britain, its value was only US$15,000, and mentioned reptiles not dinosaurs. Prokopi didn't say in his statement where or from whom he acquired the skeleton.
He said that when he received the T-Bataar, it was a collection of loose, mostly broken bones and rocks with embedded bones. He said he and his wife spent thousands of hours preparing and mounting the skeleton, which increased its value, before it was sold.
US Attorney Preet Bharara has filed a lawsuit seeking the forfeiture of the skeleton to the Mongolian government, and an order to seize the fossil has been issued. Robert Painter, the lawyer representing Mongolia, said that the dinosaur will be held by the US government while legal proceedings continue.
Anyone who comes forward to claim ownership of the skeleton will have to prove they are the rightful owner or the US will repatriate the skeleton to Mongolia.
"Today we send a message to looters all over the world: We will not turn a blind eye to the marketplace of looted fossils," President Tsakhia said in a statement.
The skeleton was discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert, Bharara said. Heritage Auctions and the Mongolian government agreed in May to jointly investigate the ownership of the skeleton. Several palaeontologists examined the bones and determined they were removed from the western Gobi Desert between 1995 and 2005.
Published: 30th June 2012