Monday, September 8, 2014

Allegations of False Declarations and Altered Trade Papers: Forfeiture Complaint Says $250,000 Dinosaur Skull Isn't from France and Isn't a Cheap Replica

In a civil forfeiture complaint published today and filed last Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York told a federal district court that a fossilized dinosaur skull over 65 million years old isn’t a cheap replica and isn’t from France.

Prosecutors alleged in their complaint that a French fossil dealer attempted to unlawfully import the Alioramus dinosaur head into the United States by failing to disclose that it was real, that it originated from Mongolia, or that it was valued at a quarter million dollars.

This latest case appears to be part of a trend by U.S. and Mongolian authorities to focus attention on illegal imports of dinosaur fossils. The smuggling convictions U.S. v. Rolater and U.S. v. Prokopi are examples of recent criminal prosecutions. No criminal prosecution has been announced in the present case, which is an in rem action against the object that is captioned as U.S. v. One Alioramus Dinosaur Skull.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein wrote in the verified civil complaint that the dinosaur skull must be forfeited under 19 U.S.C. § 1595a because the skull is considered stolen property according to the terms of the National Stolen Property Act 18 U.S.C. § 2314. The prosecutor also asserted that the head was smuggled into the U.S. in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 542 and/or § 545.

The AUSA recited the following allegations in support of the lawsuit to take title to the fossil and repatriate it to Mongolia:

In January 2014, Geofossiles shipped an Alioramus dinosaur skull via UPS from France to Newark, New Jersey. U.S. Customs intercepted and detained the shipment. “Attached to the customs declaration was an invoice dated January 9, 2014 for ‘fossil cast dinosaur bones from France’ with a sales price of 2,500 Euros plus fees. At the time, 2,500 Euros could be exchanged for approximately $3,400.”

Geofossiles petitioned Customs to reclaim the dinosaur head but provided conflicting paperwork that declared that the head was actually of Mongolian origin. Geofossiles attached to its petition "a different invoice, dated March 18, 2014, describing the Defendant in rem as 'Fossil dinosaur bones 70% and 30% cast' with a purchase price of $250,000, indicating that the shipment contained a genuine fossil.”

The prosecutor’s complaint outlined how Mongolian authorities uncovered allegedly altered information during an examination of export paperwork:
Geofossiles attached to the Petition documents which purported to show that the Defendant in rem was reported to the Mongolian government and allowed to leave Mongolia in 2006. 
The documents supplied by Geofossiles were reviewed by Mongolian authorities who located their original counterparts in their records. The Mongolian authorities determined that the copies provided by Geofossiles were altered versions of records pertaining to the export of four Mongolian  ger” sets in 2006. A ger is a moveable, circular dwelling that is a traditional residential structure in Mongolia. 
The original Mongolian Certificate of Origin lists only the gers. By comparison, the copy of the Mongolian Certificate of Origin supplied by Geofossiles lists the same gers, but has been altered to add, in a different font, four paleontological terms, including tarbo[]saurus.
The French dealer, or any other valid party that chooses to assert title to the Alioramus skull, will have an opportunity to challenge the allegations made by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.