Smuggled dinosaur skeleton returned to Mongolia
by Verena Dobnik, Associated Press
May 06, 2013 03:15 PM | 423 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mongolia's director of their natural history museum Bolortsetseg Minjin, left, talks wirh Dr. Philip J. Currie, second left, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Paleobiology at the University of Alberta, Canada, and attorney Robert Painter, before a repatriation ceremony to return a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, in New York, Monday, May 6, 2013. The 70-million-year-old fossil was looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the U.S. It was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Mongolia's director of their natural history museum Bolortsetseg Minjin, left, talks wirh Dr. Philip J. Currie, second left, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Dinosaur Paleobiology at the University of Alberta, Canada, and attorney Robert Painter, before a repatriation ceremony to return a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, in New York, Monday, May 6, 2013. The 70-million-year-old fossil was looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the U.S. It was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Dinosaur Dispute Slideshow
The skull and jawbone of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton is displayed during a ceremony of its repatriation to Mongolia, in New York, Monday, May 6, 2013. The 70-million-year-old fossil was looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the U.S. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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NEW YORK (AP) — It may be the first time a dead dinosaur is flying for free.

U.S. authorities in New York are returning a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton to the Mongolian government this week.

The artifact will be flown to its native land free of charge via Korean Air, U.S. and Mongolian officials said Monday while announcing the repatriation of the priceless artifact.

"We are very pleased to have played a pivotal role in returning Mongolia's million-dollar baby," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "Of course, that million-dollar price tag, as high as it is, doesn't begin to describe the true value of an ancient artifact that is part of the fabric of a country's natural history and cultural heritage."

The skeleton had been looted from Mongolia's Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the U.S. by fossils dealer Eric Prokopi, authorities said. Prokopi, who bought and sold whole and partial dinosaur skeletons out of his Florida home, illegally imported the bones into the U.S. then assembled them into a skeleton, authorities said.

The dinosaur was seized by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after it was sold at auction in New York for over $1 million last year. The government said the skeleton was mislabeled as reptile bones from Great Britain.

By law, any dinosaur fossils found in Mongolia belong to the country and its people.

"It's really important that as nations, we recognize there's a difference between art sold in the regular course of business, and then there are things that are truly national heritage," said ICE director John Morton.

Prokopi, of Gainesville, Fla., pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy, the fraudulent transfer of the bones and making false statements to customs authorities.

Mongolia President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has thanked U.S. authorities for returning the dinosaur that once stood 8 feet tall and was 24 feet long. It'll eventually be displayed as a centerpiece of a new museum called Central Dinosaur Museum of Mongolia.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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