USG seizes allegedly looted Mongolian dinosaur skeleton in New York City

On June 22, agents of the US Homeland Security Department seized a 24 foot long skeleton of Tyrannosurus bataar  from an art storage facility in New York City after US District Judge Kevin Castel signed  a warrant on June 19 authorizing the seizure after finding "probable cause to believe" that the nearly complete skeleton is subject to forfeiture under US laws. On May 18, US Attorney Preet Bhararam, acting in behalf of the US Department of Justice, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in New York City asking that the skeleton auctioned off on May 20 be turned over to USG custody for return to Mongolia.  President Ts. Elbegdorj  had obtained a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the auction, which proceeded contingent on the result of any court proceedings. Elbegdorj thanked Bhararam for the USG intervention to help recover the skeleton, calling it "an important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people." Elbegdorj also said, "Cultural looting and profiteering cannot be tolerated anywhere and this cooperation between our governments is a large step forward to stopping it." 

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department asserted that the skeleton was imported from Great Britain to Gainesville, FL, in March 2010 with erroneous claims that it originated in Great Britain and was worth only $15,000. It sold at auction on May 20 for over US$1 million. James T. Hayes Jr., head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said criminal smugglers misrepresented the fossil to customs officials when they illegally imported it into the US. Jim Halperin, cofounder of Heritage Auctions, a defendant in the lawsuit, said: "We auctioned the Tyrannosaurus bataar conditionally, subject to future court rulings, so this matter is now in the hands of lawyers and politicians."  

US Attorney Bhararam said that the skeletal remains are "of tremendous cultural and historic significance to the people of Mongolia, and provide a connection to the country's prehistoric past. When the skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country's natural history was stolen with it, and we look forward to returning it to its rightful place." The lawsuit said the bones were believed to have been discovered in the Gobi Desert between 1995 and 2005. A June 5 examination by five experts specializing in bataars produced unanimous agreement that the skeleton was a Tyrannosaurus bataar and almost certainly originated in the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia. US authorities said Tyrannosaurus bataars were first discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition in Omnogovi Province. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring fossils to be the property of the government of Mongolia and criminalizing their export. 



Tyrannosurus bataar