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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Canadian Man Charged with Trafficking Dinosaur Fossils from China

U.S. District Court in Tucson, AZ.
A man has been arrested in Arizona for allegedly trying to sell dinosaur fossils imported from China to undercover federal agents. Jun Yang, a Canadian, faces criminal charges of archaeological smuggling and wildlife trafficking.

The charges, initiated by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), likely will be challenged by defense lawyers because of legal irregularities.

Filed on Tuesday in federal district court (15-mj-07055), the complaint alleges that the defendant
did fraudulently and knowingly offer for sale and sell merchandise, namely one Psittacosaurus fossil and  approximately 15 Hadrosaur fossil eggs, after the merchandises' importation into the United States, knowing said merchandise had been imported into  the United States contrary to law; that is, ... Jun Yang knowingly sold said merchandise knowing that they are cultural property that had been imported into the United States from the People's Republic of China contrary to law, that is specially protected fossils are prohibited  from being sold to any foreigner or foreign organization, all in violation of Title  19, United  States Code  Section  2606(a) [the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)] and Title  18 United States Code Section 545 [the anti-smuggling law].
...
[and] did unlawfully and knowingly import in foreign commerce, transport, receive and acquire any wildlife, that is one Psittacosaurus fossil and approximately 15 Hadrosaur fossil eggs, knowing that said wildlife were taken, possessed, transported and sold in violation of the laws of the People's Republic of China. all in violation  of Title  16 United States Code. Sections 3372(a)(2)(A) and 3373(d)(l)(B) [the Lacey Act].
The CPIA, which is relied on by Count 1 in the charging document, is the federal statute that implements the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. While the 1970 UNESCO Convention’s definition of "cultural property" includes "objects of palaeontological interest," the CPIA itself only applies to archaeological and ethnological objects. Palaeontolological material--like dinosaur fossils--are not archaeological or ethnological objects by definition. And while the U.S. has signed a bilateral agreement with China that restricts the import of designated Chinese archaeological and ethnological artifacts across America's borders, that agreement does not prohibit dinosaur fossils.

Count 2 relies on the Lacey Act, a federal law designed to protect wildlife and other natural resources. Under the terms of the statute, it is illegal to import or sell designated wildlife that is taken, possessed, or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States. But are dinosaur fossils wildlife? While the statutory definition of "wildlife" includes a dead wild animal or an egg, would either a dinosaur fossil or dinosaur eggs actually be considered "wildlife"?

The defendant's arrest is explained by the allegations contained in the criminal complaint:
On or about February l0, 2015, in Tucson in the District of Arizona, agents of the Department of Homeland Security acting in an undercover capacity walked through the display area at [a gem and mineral show] .... Agents spoke with Mr. Yang about an item displayed and advertised as a Psittacosaurus Fossil. Mr. Yang stated the fossil was 100 to 130 million years old and from the province Henan and was "dug up" in  central  China  approximately 200-300 kilometers south of Mongolia. Mr. Yang stated the price of the Psittacosaurus Fossil was $15,000.00 (United States Currency) and was not negotiable because of the quality of the fossil. Agents heard Mr. Yang  speak with  another  customer regarding egg fossils adjacent to the Psittacosaurus fossil. Mr. Yang identified the eggs as Chinese dinosaur egg fossils  and told  the agents they were Hadrosaur  Eggs, a "duck billed" dinosaur in  China. A sign on the dinosaur egg fossils display box stated "$450.00" for each egg. 
On or about February 10, 2015, agents posing as shoppers ... again spoke with Mr. Yang about the Psittacosaurus fossil .... Mr. Yang stated that he illegally removed the fossils from China, put the fossils in containers with stone carvings, shipped them to the United States and didn't disclose that fossils were in the containers to US Customs and Border Protection, only paying tax on the stone carvings. 
When asked, Mr. Yang said that the exportation of the Psittacosaurus fossil and the Hadrosaur Eggs were in violation of Chinese law. Mr. Yang stated this was only a violation of the laws of China, not US. Mr. Yang stated he has no documents for any of the fossils. Agents asked for permission to photograph the fossils, and Mr. Yang agreed. 
The pictures were later sent to a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who, based on the photographs taken by the agents confirmed the fossils are a Psittacosaurus fossil and Hadrosaur Eggs and were indigenous to certain regions of China. The SME stated that these fossils are of high scientific value. A review of the law of the Peoples Republic of China prohibits the sale of specially protected fossils to foreigners or foreign organizations. 
On or about February 14, 2015 an agent acting in an undercover (UC) capacity entered the Arctic Products Inc. display area posing as a shopper. The UC agent started the conversation with Mr. Yang about the Hadrosaur Eggs that were on display and inquired as to how many they would be able to purchase for five-thousand dollars (USD-$5000.00). Mr. Yang stated that the Hadrosaur Eggs are from China, that they were very rare and that he used to have a lot, but may not be able to get them anymore. Mr. Yang stated that he already sold one (1) Hadrosaur Egg for four hundred fifty (USD-$450.00) but stated he would sell thirteen (13) Hadrosaur Eggs at a discounted rate for five-thousand dollars (USD-$5000.00) to the UC agent. 
The UC agent then inquired about the Psittacosaurus fossil.... Mr. Yang explained to the UC agent that the Psittacosaurus fossil was approximately 130-100 millions years old and it was for sale for fifteen thousand dollars (USD-$15,000). Mr. Yang stated that all the stuff was from China. Mr. Yang stated that he has had the Psittacosaurus fossil for a few years and that it was from the North-Eastern part of China. When asked how he got the fossils out of China, Mr. Yang stated the fossils are put in containers with the stone carvings and "we do not declare, we declare it as stone."
An arrest is not a finding of guilt; it is simply a process that initiates a criminal court proceeding. The prosecution bears the burden to prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Photo source: U.S. DoJ

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