'Stolen' Dinosaur Skeleton is Focus of Mongolian President

A rare dinosaur fossil was auctioned this week in New York for $1.05 million, but the sale cannot be completed until ownership rights of the fossil are sorted out.

This issue over the fossil stems from a claim by the Mongolian government that the fossil was illegally taken from the country. The Mongolian government has laws in place that make it a crime to remove fossils from the country.

Robert Painter, an attorney representing the president of Mongolia Elbegdorj Tsakhia, filed a restraining order to prevent the sale of the dinosaur fossil; however, the sale went through with the stipulation that it must first get court approval.

"I feel comfortable that the Tyrannosaurus skeleton is safe," Painter told The New York Observer.

"Once we get the ownership identified, if we're correct and this is the property of the Mongolian nation, this will not go back to the consignor, it will be returned to the Mongolian people. That's our goal," he said.

At the center of this controversy is Heritage Auction House, which is responsible for organizing the sale of the rare fossil. The auction house maintains that the fossil was legally obtained from central Asia and not illegally taken from Mongolia.

"We have legal assurances from our reputable consignors that the specimen was obtained legally," Greg Rohan, President of the Heritage Auction House, told NewsScientist.com.

"As far as we know, the Mongolian government has not produced any evidence that the piece originated in its territory," he said.

Texas State District Judge Carlos R. Cortez who is overseeing the case has not issued his ruling yet. He did inform the auction house not to transfer the purchase until the legal issues are settled.

"The skeleton is inherently unique and irreplaceable … If it is sold to a bona fide purchaser, it will likely be unable to be recovered by the Mongolian government," Cortez told CBS.