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US announces historic and prehistoric event: return of several dinosaur skeletons to Mongolia

Posted Jul 15, 2014 6:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The United States is returning the fossilized remains of more than 18 dinosaurs to the Mongolian government for display at a national museum.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of Manhattan announced the return of the remains in a press release last Thursday. The Associated Press, Reuters and Lohud.com have stories.

“This is a historic event for the U.S. attorney's office, in addition to being a prehistoric event," Bharara said during a ceremony attended by Mongolia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Bharara said the returned remains included the skeletons of two Gallimimus dinosaurs, which "memorably stampeded in one scene" of the movie Jurassic Park. Other remains returned to Mongolia included two Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons.

The return of the fossils represents the culmination of a two-year effort that included two civil forfeiture suits and a criminal prosecution, according to Bharara. Paleontologist Eric Prokopi was sentenced to three months in prison in June for his role in plotting to smuggle a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton that sold at auction for more than $1 million.

Prokopi pleaded guilty in 2012 and helped the federal government recover other dinosaur fossils. Prokopi agreed to forefeit the skeleton and other Mongolian dinosaur fossils as part of his plea agreement.

He came to the attention of authorities partly because of the efforts of Houston lawyer Robert Painter, who sought to stop the auction on behalf of the Mongolian government and then went to the auction to object and videotape the proceedings. The sale at the auction was contingent on the outcome of court proceedings.

The auctioned Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was returned to Mongolia last year.

See also:

ABA Journal: "How countries are successfully using the law to get looted cultural treasures back"

Typo in first paragraph corrected at 7:25 AM.

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