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Press Release

United States Forfeits Tyrannosaurus Skull Looted From Mongolian Desert

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the successful forfeiture of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skull (the “Bataar Skull”) unlawfully taken from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.  The Bataar Skull, a fossil from the Cretaceous period, which ended approximately 65 million years ago, had been auctioned in Manhattan in 2007 after being unlawfully brought into the United States.  The current owner of the Bataar Skull, having been informed of its origins and the circumstances of its importation into the United States, consented to its forfeiture.  The forfeiture order was signed this morning by the U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken.

The Bataar Skull is the latest addition to a lengthy list of looted dinosaur fossils the Office, together with its law enforcement partners at Homeland Security Investigations, has successfully forfeited.  Since 2012, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has secured the return and repatriation to Mongolia of several dinosaur fossils that include three full Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons; a full Saurolophus angustirostris skeleton and another partial Saurolophus; six Oviraptor skeletons; four Gallimimus skeletons; a partial Ankylosaurus skeleton; a Protoceratops skeleton; a composite nest containing miscellaneous dinosaur eggs; and numerous small, unidentified prehistoric lizards and turtles.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Our Office will continue to work to restore culturally and scientifically important artifacts to their rightful owner.  Together with our law enforcement partners at the Department of Homeland Security, we are proud to repatriate another priceless dinosaur fossil to the Government of Mongolia.”       

According to the civil complaint in this matter and other documents filed in this action:

The Tyrannosaurus bataar is indigenous to, and has only been unearthed in, a specific portion of the Gobi Desert called the Nemegt Basin, in what is now Mongolia.  Mongolian law has long declared dinosaur fossils found within Mongolia to be government property.  Their export from Mongolia without permission of the Government of Mongolia is a violation of Mongolian law.

On or about March 25, 2007, a California-based auction house offered the Bataar skull for sale at auction in Manhattan.  The Bataar Skull had been shipped into the United States in June 2006 with United States Customs documents that described it only as “fossil stone pieces.”  At auction, the Bataar Skull was described as native to the “Eurasian continent.”  The Bataar Skull sold for approximately $230,000 at auction to an anonymous California-based buyer (the “Buyer”).

In 2015, HSI performed a physical examination of the skull and confirmed that it rightfully belongs to the Government of Mongolia and had been illegally imported into the United States.  After being informed of the origins of the Bataar Skull, the Buyer agreed to turn it over to HSI and consented to its forfeiture.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of HSI, and thanked the Government of Mongolia for its assistance. 

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin S. Bell is in charge of the case.

Updated April 13, 2016

Press Release Number: 16-082