US returns smuggled dinosaur skeleton to Mongolia

2013-05-07T00:00:00Z US returns smuggled dinosaur skeleton to MongoliaThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

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 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.

Prokopi 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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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