$1M Tyrannosaurus At Center Of Custody Battle

By Amir Khan on May 22, 2012 9:58 AM EDT

Tyrannosaurus
A dinosaur skeleton auctioned in the United States is at the center of a custody battle after being claimed by Mongolia (Photo: Reuters)

A relative of the Tyrannosaurus Rex that auctioned for more than $1 million on Sunday is at the center of a custody battle. Heritage Auctions sold the 8-foot high, 24-foot long Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton for $1.5 million to an undisclosed buyer, but Mongolia, where the skeleton was found, claims the skeleton as its own property.

"There is no legal mechanism (nor has there been for over 50 years) to remove vertebrate fossil material from Mongolia. These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia," Mark Norell, a vertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, told LiveScience in a letter.

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The sale will not be completed until the court case is resolved. The Mongolian government recently obtained a temporary restraining order against Heritage to block the sale, although Heritage auctioned the dinosaur off anyway.

"I am very surprised that Heritage Auctions Inc. knowingly defied a valid court order, particularly with the judge on the phone, listening and ready to explain his order," Robert Painter, the attorney representing the Mongolian government, said in a statement.

Heritage Auction President Greg Rohan maintains that the skeleton entered the country legally and told Reuters it was offered for sale by a "reputable cosigner."

The dinosaur skeleton is between 75 and 80 percent complete, which is remarkable because most museum specimens are less than 50 percent complete, David Herskowitz, the director of Heritage's natural history department told Reuters.

In addition, there is no treaty between the U.S. and Mongolia that would prevent the exportation of fossils, according to USA Today.

"Our client has no reason to believe that any laws enforced by the United States have been violated and we are unaware that Mongolian law would have prevented export from Mongolia," Carl Soller of Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C., who represents Heritage Auctions, said, according to USA Today.

A hearing is set for June 1 in Texas, where Heritage Auctions is headquartered.  

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