Yes, you read it right. The skeleton of a stolen 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar was returned Monday to its homeland in Mongolia.
The remains were found in a basement in Queens, New York, of all places, after have been "taken without permission," from its Asian home several years ago.
"We are very pleased to have played a pivotal role in returning Mongolia's million-dollar baby," the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, stated at the handover ceremony.
Attorneys and prosecutors witnessed as the bones of that ancient beast were loaded up in boxes to be shipped back to Mongolia, putting an end to an odyssey through three continents.
The dinosaur, who is believed to have been excavated in the Gobi desert sometime between 1995 and 2005, was one of the top prizes paleontologist and fossil dealer Eric Prokopi has allegedly smuggled from around the world into the United States.
The nearly complete remains of the Tyrannosaurus bataar, a cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, had been sold at an auction for $1.05 million last year. But, US government, under Mongolia's authorities pressure, nullified the sale and returned the Mongolian million dollar child to its rightful owners.
Prokopi, who has denied trafficking, pleaded guilty last December to illegally importing fossilized remains of several dinosaurs and he is facing up to 17 years in jail at sentencing on August 30, as well as a $250,000 fine.
The ancient beast when assembled measures 24 feet long, about 8 feet high, and weighs in at 2 tons.
"This dinosaur skeleton belongs in Mongolia, not on the black market," US customs director John Morton said during the handover ceremony.
Prokopi has an unparallel track record in fossil smuggling. He was accused of illegally importing from Mongolia a second, nearly complete Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, two Saurolophus skeletons and two Oviraptor skeletons, and a Microraptor skeleton from China.
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