Smuggled dinosaur fossil to be returned to Mongolia more than a decade after looting

(CBS News) An international custody battle has come to an end with a rare, almost complete dinosaur skeleton -- a Tyrannosaurus bataar -- returning to Mongolia where it was discovered then looted.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement will officially restore ownership of the skeleton to the Mongolian government on Monday.

This dinosaur, a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex, once stood 8 feet tall and was 24 feet long. The prehistoric predator roamed the sands of the Gobi Desert more than 70 million years ago. Legally, any fossil found in Mongolia belongs to the country and its people.

But the skeleton was smuggled into the United States by a commercial paleontologist, Eric Prokopi, and then auctioned off for more than $1 million.

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explained on "CBS This Morning" the dinosaur was smuggled into the U.S. in multiple shipments. Dug up "in the dead of night" 10 to 15 years ago, Morton said the shipments were made with falsified Customs declarations.

"(They smuggled it in by) saying that it came from countries that it didn't, saying it was something it wasn't," Morton said. "... This was a very large dinosaur. Hundreds of bones. Had to brought in, actually from the rock in which it was dug up in the Gobi Desert, and then ultimately assembled here in New York."

In October, investigators seized 400 pounds of fossils from Prokopi's home in Gainesville, Fla. Nine dinosaur skeletons were eventually seized from Prokopi, Morton said.

Prokopi pled guilty to charges related to fossil smuggling in December, and is awaiting sentencing.

For more on the fossil and efforts to return it to Mongolia, watch Elaine Quijano's full report in the video above.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI assistant director, said, "Guys like Prokopi make themselves out to be, you know, the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' character (Indiana Jones), going through these countries, and having these adventures in unearthing this stuff."

Morton said, "It's a total scam."

Robert Painter, the attorney for the Mongolian government, says these sales drive a black market: "There's a global marketplace for the sale of these illicit fossils, so what you're talking about here is a trade that's millions and millions and millions of dollars each year."

These kinds of thefts happen often, Morton added on "CTM": "We have returned everything, from Saddam Hussein's ceremonial AK-47, stolen after the war in Iraq...that was stolen by looters right after the fall of the government. I just returned a tapestry to Spain that had been stolen from a cathedral in Roda that was stolen. So unfortunately there's a lot of this."

For more with Morton and Miller, watch the video in the player below.

Morton said the market is often people looking to decorate their homes with antiquities. "People are buying -- believe it or not -- dinosaurs to put in their foyers," he said. "...Now, you have to have over a million dollars to buy something like this -- it's very expensive, but the reputable museums and auction houses are not going to (sell them)."

Miller added, "They had to jump through a lot of hoops on this one to conceal it."

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