The Curious Case of the Million Dollar Tyrannosaurus Skeleton That's Been Seized by Homeland Security

This is one of the strangest arrest warrants we've heard about in quite some time: U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel signed a warrant on Tuesday authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to seize a Tyrannosaurus batarr skeleton from an art storage company. The seizure is part of an effort to get the bones back to its rightful owners — in Mongolia.

Judge Castel issued the warrant after finding there was "probable cause to believe" that the nearly complete skeleton is subject to forfeiture under U.S. laws. While it might sound weird to have a 70-million-year-old skeleton named as a defendant, it's not uncommon for governments to do so when an object needs to be reclaimed.

The Curious Case of the Million Dollar Tyrannosaurus Skeleton That's Been Seized by Homeland Security

The National Post offers more details:

The lawsuit said the Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was brought in March 2010 from Great Britain to Gainesville, Florida, with erroneous claims that it had originated in Great Britain and was worth only $15,000. It sold at auction on May 20 for more than $1 million, though the sale was contingent upon the outcome of court proceedings.

Jim Halperin, cofounder of the The Heritage Auctions, the dinosaur's Dallas-based custodian, has said a consignor bought the fossils in good faith and spent a year and considerable expense restoring them.

Halperin said Tuesday about the judge's order, "We have co-operated in the investigation process for paleontologists to expeditiously examine the skeleton, and we will continue to co-operate with authorities in an ongoing effort to reach a fair and just resolution to this matter."

The remains were examined by five experts on June 5, who unanimously agreed that the skeleton was a Tyrannosaurus batarr, also known as a Tarbosaurus, and almost certainly originated in the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted and enforced laws declaring any fossils found on their turf to be the property of the Mongolian government and criminalizing their export from the country.

Top image via extravaganzi. Inset image via Wikipedia user Haplochromis.