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Press Release

United States Seeks To Forfeit And Return A Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skull Looted From The Gobi Desert In Mongolia

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, and Glenn Sorge, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”), Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint against 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, has consented to its forfeiture.

The Bataar Skull is the latest addition to a lengthy list of looted dinosaur fossils the United States Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with its law enforcement partners at HSI, has pursued over the past few years.  Since 2012, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has secured through a combination of civil and criminal actions 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: “We are gratified to add the skull of another Tyrannosaurus bataar to the roster of fossils returned to Mongolia.  Each of these fossils represents a culturally and scientifically important artifact looted from its rightful owner.  Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to pursue opportunities to right the wrongs committed when priceless artifacts are stolen.”

Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Glenn Sorge said: “Cultural artifacts such as this Bataar Skull represent a part of Mongolian national cultural heritage.  It belongs to the people of Mongolia.  These priceless antiquities are not souvenirs to be sold to private collectors or hobbyists. HSI is committed to working closely with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's Office to target this illegal activity and return the smuggled items to their countries of origin.”

According to the allegations in the Civil Complaint unsealed today:

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 on auction in Manhattan.  The Bataar Skull had been shipped into the United States in or around 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.  Upon being informed of the circumstances regarding 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. 

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 December 16, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-322