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Mongolian dinosaur seized in US following court order

NEW YORK -- A gigantic tyrannosaurus skeleton — tucked away in a New York warehouse — was seized Friday by U.S. authorities, who hope to return the prehistoric remains to their native Mongolia, officials said.

The skeleton, about 8 feet (2.43 meters) tall and a whopping 24 feet (7.31 meters) wide, was locked up at Cadogan-Tate Art storage facility after being sold to a last month at Heritage Auctions for US$1.05 million.

A spokesperson for the auction house confirmed the seizure to AFP.

The tyrannosaurus — a tarbosaurus bataar — walked Central Asia's Gobi Desert on two feet at the end of the Cretaceous period, some 70 million years ago.

In May 2010, the skeleton was shipped to Florida from Britain. It was sold at a New York auction on May 20 for US$1.05 million by Heritage Auctions.

But according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New York, it is alleged to have been illegally imported from Britain through false claims about what it was and its value.

A Manhattan prosecutor filed to seize the reconstituted skeleton Monday and return it to Mongolian authorities, who had tried in vain to prevent the sale, and the request was approved by judge Kevin Casten.

In 1924, Mongolia determined that fossils are national property, and their export is strictly forbidden.

Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj rejoiced Monday at the legal proceedings, saying the tyrannosaurus represents an important part of the Mongolian people's cultural heritage.

“We are one step closer to bringing this rare tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton back home to the people of Mongolia,” he said in a statement sent to AFP.

“Today we send a message to looters all over the world: We will not turn a blind eye to the marketplace of looted fossils.”

It was not immediately clear when the remains would be handed over but Robert Painter, a lawyer representing Mongolia, said he and his clients were confident they would be repatriated “in the near future.”

Heritage Auctions' co-chair Jim Halperin, meanwhile, said there should be a “fair and just” solution for Florida-based seller Eric Prokopi.

He “spent a year of his life and considerable expense identifying, restoring, mounting and preparing what had previously been a much less valuable matrix of disassembled, underlying bones and bone fragments.”

Prokopi has denied being an international trafficker of historical artifacts.

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