Dinosaur bones at center of smuggling case on way back to Mongolia

May 7, 2013 at 4:21 PM

NEW YORK, May 7 (UPI) -- A dinosaur skeleton at the center of an international custody battle and allegations of illegal smuggling is on its way back to Mongolia, U.S. officials say.

The "nearly complete" skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar was delivered to representatives of the government of Mongolia by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. attorney's office Monday in New York, CNN reported.

The dinosaur skeleton was imported into the United States from Great Britain in 2010 and put up for auction but was seized by U.S. authorities after Eric Prokopi, a self-described "commercial paleontologist" from Florida, pleaded guilty in December to smuggling and other charges.

Under Mongolian law, dinosaur fossils belong the Mongolian government and exporting them from the country is a criminal offense.

U.S. authorities and paleontologists determined the skeleton was from the western Gobi Desert in Mongolia, taken from there sometime between 1995 and 2005.

Prokopi is awaiting sentencing and faces a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison.

"This is one of the most important repatriations of fossils in recent years," ICE Director John Morton said. "We cannot allow the greed of a few looters and schemers to trump the cultural interests of an entire nation."

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