US to return smuggled dinosaur fossil to Mongolia

Washington, Dec 17 (IANS) The US is preparing to return the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, smuggled into the country and auctioned off in 2007, the media reported on Thursday.

According to the federal attorney for the southern district of New York, the skull of the dinosaur, which lived 65 million years ago in the late Cretaceous period, is the latest to be recovered from a long list of fossils illegally imported to the US, many of which have already been returned to Mongolia since 2012, Efe news reported.

The complete list includes three full Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons, two of the vegetarian dinosaur saurolophus angustirostris – one full and another partial and six skeletons of oviraptor, known for feeding on eggs laid by other dinosaurs.

Besides, there are four gallimimus skeletons of the same Cretaceous period, a partial ankylosaurus skeleton, which lived 60 million years ago, and a composite nest containing miscellaneous dinosaur eggs, and as-yet unidentified prehistoric lizards and turtles.

The pieces were recovered after Mongolia filed a civil suit before US authorities requesting the confiscation and return of the fossils.

In March 2007, a California-based auction house had put the Tyrannosaurus bataar skull under the hammer which was brought to the country by sea on forged customs papers a year before, and purchased by a Californian for $230,000.

Earlier this year investigators inspected the piece and confirmed it was one among those claimed by Mongolia.

The search for the stolen fossils that started in March 2012 in collaboration with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to the arrest of Eric Prokopi, the smuggler who imported the skull, and to an entire “cache” of fossils smuggled into the country.

Prokopi had offered to help the investigators bust the smuggling network and in return was handed only a three-month prison sentence.

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