| USWorld

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Tyrannosaurus bones smuggled from Mongolia to get free ride home

Email Newsletters

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

By The Associated Press
Monday, May 6, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

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.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. Suspect in Colorado attack called loner who left few clues
  2. Nuclear crossroad: California reactors face uncertain future
  3. Plasma burp seen in star’s destruction by black hole
  4. American held captive in Cuba for 5 years expected quick release
  5. Chicago retail district targeted by protesters
  6. Floods claim lives in Texas
  7. Man accused of jumping White House fence left suicide note, authorities say
  8. Transgender homicides spike in United States
  9. Foreign policy expert: Obama administration should create Syria safe areas
  10. FBI to begin tracking animal cruelty cases
  11. Arizona panel directs cash for border fence to technology