(CNN) — Federal authorities have filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of a stolen dinosaur skeleton and its return to Mongolia, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar was looted from Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and brought to the United States illegally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a joint statement Monday.
“The skeletal remains of this dinosaur are of tremendous cultural and historic significance to the people of Mongolia and provide a connection to the country’s prehistoric past,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was allegedly brought to the United States from Great Britain in March 2010. Upon entering, smugglers allegedly listed the skeleton’s value at $15,000, while the auction value was listed as $950,000 to $1.5 million.
Additionally, the skeleton’s country of origin was listed as Great Britain. Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons have only been recovered in Mongolia.
Despite a court order submitted by the government of Mongolia and granted by a Texas State Civil District judge prohibiting the auction, sale, release or transfer of the skeleton, it was sold at auction for more than $1 million.
Paleontologists recently determined the skeleton was unearthed from the Gobi Desert sometime from 1995 to 2005.
“When the skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country’s natural history was stolen with it, and we look forward to returning it to its rightful place,” Bharara said.
Court documents state the skeleton is in the custody of Cadogan Tate Fine Art in Sunnyside, New York. Cadogan Tate was not immediately available for comment.
Mongolia enacted laws in 1924 criminalizing the exportation of dinosaur fossils from the country. The Tyrannosaurus bataar lived about 70 million years ago.
By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley
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