Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Black-market Dinosaurs Returned to Source Country

The Heritage Auctions tarbosaurus sale case has thrown a spotlight on the lucrative world of paleontological trading. Sources in Mongolia say that a ring of middlemen had been responsible for a steady flow of remains, worth up to £1 million ($1.52 million) at a time, out of the country and to dealers and collectors in the US via Japan and Britain since at least 2003.

Eric Prokopi, a commercial paleontologist from Florida, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to fraud and conspiracy for his role in smuggling the skeleton seized in New York into the US and putting it up for sale. The tarbosaurus that was at the centre of the case had been shipped in several consignments from Britain to Prokopi who then reassembled it. The country of origin for the Mongolian fossils was listed as "Britain". The case came to light last year when American paleontologists saw that the skeleton was being advertised for auction and alerted the Mongolian government which in turn contacted US authorities.
The skeleton, however, is just the first part of a trove of looted Mongolian dinosaur remains that will be returned to their homeland after an agreement was reached with a British fossil dealer, US prosecutors said. Chris Moore, who runs Forge Fossils in the Dorset town of Charmouth, recently handed over to the Manhattan district attorney's office a large collection of fossils, including another tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton. These will also be returned to Mongolia. Mr Moore faces no legal proceedings in the US. The Mongolian government said that its criminal investigation into his activities would be ended when the fossils were back on home soil.
The British side of this story is rather mysterious. There is an interesting article by Cahal Milmo, 'The Great Dinosaur heist, Bone Smuggler Busted in London' on the Scotland Yard blog, Monday, February 4, 2013, citing 'The Independent':
Moore, who runs a company called Forge Fossils, has denied any involvement in the case against Prokopi. The British dealer's American lawyer, John Cahill, said yesterday he had no comment to make on Prokopi's guilty pleas. Earlier this year, Cahill said: ''Mr Moore is not involved in the case and has no interest in becoming involved in it.'' [...] Moore, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, did not respond to a list of emailed questions, including an inquiry about the whereabouts of a Tarbosaurus skull he offered for sale in June, 2010, at a London antiques fair at £125,000 ($190,000). Moore says he acquired the skull from an unspecified central Asian country. [...] For the moment, however, the location of the British Tarbosaurus skeleton in the Prokopi case remains a mystery. Scotland Yard confirmed that its art and antiques unit had been contacted by the US Department of Justice but insisted it was not currently investigating the case.
Not investigating the case.Well, what a surprise.

Philip Sherwell, 'Black-market dinosaur heads home to Mongolia', Brisbane Times, May 7, 2013

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