Ac­tor Ni­co­las Cage re­turns stolen di­nosaur skull he bought

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Ni­co­las Cage has agreed to turn over a rare stolen di­nosaur skull he bought for $276,000 to U.S. au­thor­i­ties so it can be re­turned to the Mon­go­lian gov­ern­ment.

The of­fice of Preet Bharara, the U.S. at­tor­ney in Man­hat­tan, filed a civil for­fei­ture com­plaint last week to take pos­ses­sion of the Tyran­nosaurus bataar skull, which will be repa­tri­ated to Mon­go­lia.

The law­suit did not specif­i­cally name Cage as the owner but Cage’s pub­li­cist con­firmed that the ac­tor bought the skull in March 2007 from a Bev­erly Hills gallery, I.M. Chait.

The “Na­tional Trea­sure” ac­tor is not ac­cused of wrong­do­ing, and au­thor­i­ties said he vol­un­tar­ily agreed to turn over the skull af­ter learn­ing of the cir­cum­stances.

Alex Schack, a pub­li­cist for Cage, said in an email that the ac­tor re­ceived a cer­tifi­cate of au­then­tic­ity from the gallery and was first con­tacted by U.S. au­thor­i­ties in July 2014 when the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity in­formed him that the skull might have been stolen. Fol­low­ing a de­ter­mi­na­tion by in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the skull in fact had been taken il­le­gally from Mon­go­lia, Cage agreed to hand it over, Schack said.

Cage out­bid fel­low movie star Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull, ac­cord­ing to prior news re­ports.

The I.M. Chait gallery had pre­vi­ously pur­chased and sold an il­le­gally smug­gled di­nosaur skele­ton from con­victed

pa­le­on­tol­o­gist Eric Prokopi, whom Bharara called a “one­man black mar­ket in pre­his­toric

fos­sils.”

The Chait gallery has not been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment on Mon­day.

It was un­clear whether the Ni­co­las Cage skull was specif­i­cally con­nected to Prokopi, who pleaded guilty in De­cem­ber 2012 to smug­gling a Tyran­nosaurus bataar skele­ton out of Mon­go­lia’s Gobi desert and was later sen­tenced to three months in prison. As part of his guilty plea, Prokopi helped pros­e­cu­tors re­cover at least 17 other fos­sils. As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Martin Bell, who pros­e­cuted Prokopi, was also the lead gov­ern­ment lawyer in the Cage case, ac­cord­ing to court records.

The Tyran­nosaurus bataar, like its more fa­mous rel­a­tive Tyran­nosaurus rex, was a car­ni­vore that lived ap­prox­i­mately 70 mil­lion years ago. Its re­mains have been dis­cov­ered only in Mon­go­lia, which crim­i­nal­ized the ex­port of di­nosaur fos­sils in 1924. Since 2012, Bharara’s of­fice has re­cov­ered more than a dozen Mon­go­lian fos­sils, in­clud­ing three full Tyran­nosaurus bataar skele­tons.

“Each of th­ese fos­sils rep­re­sents a cul­tur­ally and sci­en­tif­i­cally im­por­tant ar­ti­fact looted from its right­ful owner,” Bharara said last week.

- MSN.com (Re­port­ing by Joseph Ax; Edit­ing by An­drew

Hay and Les­lie Adler).

Ni­cholas Cage

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