Tyrannosaurus bones smuggled from Mongolia to get free ride home
NEW YORK — 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 in 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 United States 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 United States 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 more than $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.
Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has thanked U.S. authorities for returning the dinosaur, which once stood 8 feet tall and was 24 feet long. It will eventually be displayed as a centerpiece of a new museum called Central Dinosaur Museum of Mongolia.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
- Truck carrying 13.7M bees overturns
- California investigates Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water losses as farmers deny theft
- Shuster admits to ‘personal relationship’ with airline industry lobbyist
- Foggy Interstate 70 pileup injures dozen in Colorado
- Cardinal Francis George of Chicago dead at 78
- Federal appeals court appears divided on Obama’s immigrant deportation shield
- Federal judge who blocked Obama immigration order painted as unbiased
- SpaceX makes espresso delivery to space station
- Scientists: Oil spill has harmed health of Gulf of Mexico
- Family of youngest Boston Marathon victim wants death penalty off table
- Social media makes it difficult for ‘hero’ to stay anonymous