U.S. Attorney Files Civil Action To Forfeit Dinosaur Fossil
French Importer Supplied Forged Mongolian Export Documents
A civil complaint was filed yesterday in federal court in the Eastern District of New York to forfeit the fossilized skull and vertebrae of an Alioramus dinosaur (the “Dinosaur Skull”). The Alioramus was a dinosaur that lived in the late Cretaceous period, approximately 65 to 70 million years ago. It is related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Tarbosaurus. The Dinosaur Skull was falsely described as a French replica in January 2014 when it was shipped to the United States by Geofossiles, Inc., (“Geofossiles”) a French fossil dealer. Upon its arrival in the United States from France, the Dinosaur Skull was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). When Geofossiles petitioned for the Dinosaur Skull’s release, it conceded that the Dinosaur Skull was a genuine Mongolian fossil but attached forged Mongolian export documents. The complaint alleges that the Dinosaur Skull is the property of Mongolia and that it was imported into the United States contrary to law.
The complaint was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI, New York.
“The extraordinary fossils that continue to be unearthed in Mongolia are not only a source of national pride for the Mongolian people, they are the property of the Mongolian people,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Property of cultural and historic significance that has been stolen from other countries will not find safe harbor in our ports. We are proud of our ongoing role in the repatriation of stolen and smuggled cultural property to its rightful owners.” Ms. Lynch thanked the Mongolian government and the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs for their assistance.
“Because of the diligent work of CBP officers and HSI special agents, this prehistoric fossilized skull from Mongolia was intercepted and removed from the stream of commerce,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Hayes. “HSI works with its law enforcement partners to combat the smuggling of cultural property and return seized items to their rightful owners.”
When Geofossiles shipped the Dinosaur Skull to the United States, it falsely described the shipment as a low-value replica made in France. After the Dinosaur Skull was seized, Geofossiles petitioned CBP for its release. In the petition, Geofossiles conceded that the Dinosaur Skull was a genuine fossil, comprised of 70% original material and 30% cast to complete the skull. Geofossiles further admitted that the Dinosaur Skull’s country of origin was Mongolia, not France, and attached a contract to sell the piece for $250,000.
Under Mongolian law, significant fossil finds like the Dinosaur Skull are national property and, even if privately owned, cannot be sold to non-Mongolians or permanently exported. Nonetheless, Geofossiles attached to the petition several documents that purported to be Mongolian records authorizing the sale and export of the Dinosaur Skull from Mongolia to a Korean company in 2006. The records supplied by Geofossiles described the shipment as containing an incongruous combination of fossils and traditional Mongolian structures called “gers.” When Mongolian authorities located the original records for this shipment, they confirmed that only the gers were declared. Thus, the records supplied by Geofossiles were falsified to include fossils.
The government’s case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Karin Orenstein.
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 14-CV-5198(BMC)