(NEW YORK) — A 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton that was illegally smuggled into the United States was returned Monday to the Mongolian government, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs officials.
The tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, which is 24 feet long and eight feet tall, was to be flown free of charge from New York City to Mongolia by Korean Air, U.S. officials said.
The nearly-complete skeleton is believed to have been smuggled out of the country between 2005 and 2012 by Eric Prokopi, 38, a self-described “commercial paleontologist.”
The artifact was seized by federal agents after it was sold at a Manhattan auction last year for $1.05 million.
Prokopi pleaded guilty in December to illegally importing the fossilized remains of several dinosaurs, according to ICE.
“We cannot allow the greed of a few looters and schemers to trump the cultural interests of an entire nation,” ICE director John Morton said in a statement. “We undo a great wrong by returning this priceless dinosaur skeleton to the people of Mongolia.”
The tyrannosaurus bataar was a carnivorous dinosaur native to Mongolia that lived during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 70 million years ago.
According to Mongolian law, any dinosaur fossils found in the country belong to the government and its people.
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Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Madison Park and Steve Almasy, CNN
Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN