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US returns smuggled dinosaur haul to Mongolia

The United States returned to Mongolia more than 18 dinosaur skeletons and fossils stolen from the Gobi desert and smuggled abroad, saying they were enough to stock a museum.

NEW YORK: The United States returned to Mongolia on Thursday more than 18 dinosaur skeletons and fossils stolen from the Gobi desert and smuggled abroad, saying they were enough to stock a museum.

The haul includes skeletons of two Tyrannosaurus bataars, a cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, and two Oviraptors, known at least apocryphally for eating other dinosaur eggs.

The repatriation ceremony was the culmination of a two-year effort to return numerous dinosaur fossils smuggled to the United States and other countries.

Some were illegally smuggled into the US using false customs papers and others were voluntarily forfeited by a British collector to the United States for return to Mongolia.

"A recovery of this sort is without precedent," top New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara told the handing-over ceremony.

"It is a haul sufficient enough to stock a natural history museum, which I understand actually is currently being built in Mongolia. We're honored to return these fossils to the Mongolian people."

The ceremony took place more than a year after the United States handed back the first remains of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton to the Mongolian government.

The nearly complete skeleton had been sold at auction for more than $1 million before US authorities intervened at Mongolia's request.

The Mongolian minister of culture, sport and tourism said the first skeleton would be the first item to go on display in a new Central Dinosaur Museum that the government planned to build.

A Florida-based collector, Eric Prokopi, pleaded guilty in December 2012 to smuggling and has subsequently given up some of the dinosaur skeletons returned to Mongolia.

The rest were handed over to US authorities by his British former business partner.

Prokopi, who had faced up to 17 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, was instead sentenced to three months on July 3 after pleading guilty and surrendering the skeletons.

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