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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

Friday, May 10, 2013

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Recovery Of Additional Dinosaur Fossils For Repatriation To Mongolia

Two Additional Tyrannosaurus Bataars, Hadrosaur, And Egg Nest Among Mongolian Dinosaur Fossils Secured

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., the Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the recovery of additional dinosaur fossils for return to the Government of Mongolia. In addition to a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton previously forfeited to the United States and successfully repatriated to the Mongolian government on May 6, 2013, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel signed a judgment yesterday forfeiting another Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (the “Second Bataar”), one Saurolophus Angustirostris skeleton (the “Hadrosaur”), one Oviraptor matrix containing at least five Oviraptor skeletons (the “Raptor Matrix”), and an additional Oviraptor skeleton (the “Raptor”). Also, on May 1, 2013, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer signed a stipulation arranging for the return of fossils including an additional Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton (the “Third Bataar”); a rock slab containing two Gallimimus skeletons (the “Gallimimus slab”), two additional Gallimimus skeletons, an Ankylosaurus skeleton and skull, a Protoceratops skeleton, and one restored composite egg nest display piece made of composite dinosaur egg fossils provided to the United States Attorney’s Office by Christopher Moore, a British citizen (together, the “Moore dinosaurs”).

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The recovery of this treasure trove of dinosaur fossils is the latest significant step in returning missing pieces of the Mongolian people’s history that were literally dug out from under them. One cannot put a price tag on cultural artifacts or overstate the importance of their role in a country’s history, and we are delighted to be moving the process of returning these fossils to Mongolia forward.”

ICE HSI Special Agent-in-Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. said: “Through this investigation, HSI special agents around the country have seized numerous dinosaur skeletons that are pending repatriation to the government of Mongolia. We simply cannot allow the greed of a few looters and schemers to trump the cultural interests of an entire nation. HSI remains a committed partner in the effort to ensure that we investigate individuals involved in stolen foreign art, antiquities, relics and the illicit fossil trade. We look forward to returning these fossils to their rightful owner – the government of Mongolia.”

According to the civil forfeiture and criminal Complaints, the Information, plea agreement, stipulations, and other court documents filed in Manhattan federal court:

The Tyrannosaurus bataar, indigenous to what is now Mongolia, was a dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 70 million years ago. It was first discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert in the Mongolian Ömnögovi Province. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Government of Mongolia, and criminalizing their export from the country.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Bataar skeleton and several other dinosaur fossils from Mongolia were imported into the United States. The customs importation documents contained several false statements. First, the country of origin of the fossils was erroneously listed. In addition, the value of the fossils was substantially understated on the importation documents. Finally, the fossils were incorrectly described.

Texas-based Heritage Auctions, Inc., offered the Bataar for sale at an auction conducted in New York City. Prior to the sale, the Government of Mongolia sought, and a Texas judge granted, a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting the auctioning, sale, release, or transfer of the Bataar. Notwithstanding the order, Heritage Auctions completed the auction and the Bataar skeleton sold for over $1 million. The United States Attorney’s Office seized the Bataar and initiated a forfeiture action. On February 14, 2013, Judge Castel entered a judgment forfeiting the Bataar skeleton to the United States for its return to Mongolia.

A concurrent criminal investigation revealed that several additional Mongolian dinosaur fossils had been illegally taken from Mongolia, including the Second Bataar and the Raptor. During the investigation, Christopher Moore, a British fossil dealer, contacted the United States Attorney’s Office and informed the Office of his possession of the Moore dinosaurs. Upon being advised that the Moore dinosaurs had been stolen from Mongolia, he agreed to send them to the United States Attorney’s Office for their return to Mongolia.

Meanwhile, two additional dinosaur fossils, the Hadrosaur and the Raptor Matrix, were at one point in the possession of an auction house in California. The auction house agreed to assist in facilitating their return to Mongolia, consenting to the forfeiture of both items.

All of these fossils will now be returned to Mongolia as part of the Office’s efforts to facilitate the repatriation of fossils involved in this case.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of ICE HSI.

The forfeiture action was handled by the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharon Cohen Levin and Martin S. Bell were in charge of the litigation. The criminal case was handled by the Complex Frauds Unit. Martin S. Bell was in charge of the prosecution.

Hadrosaur Forfeiture Complaint

Press Release Number: 
Updated May 15, 2015