Remember that awesome tyrannosaur skeleton you made all those great plans for last week? It was sold this weekend for over $1 million to an anonymous bidder (you?). Also, the president of Mongolia is claiming it was stolen.
Sunday's auction of the artifact was interrupted with great dramatic flair by a lawyer representing the Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia.
The New York Observer reports that, moments before bidding on the skeleton began, the president's attorney, Robert Painter:
stood up with a cell phone held to his ear and yelled, "I'm sorry, I need to interrupt this auction. I have a judge on the phone."
At which point "a loud whistle rang out" and the president of the auction house, along with some security guards, shuffled him into a corner because that's no way to behave when billionaires are talking.
Painter says he was contacted by Mongolian state officials last Friday evening, after news of the impending auction made headlines. Heritage Auction's description of the fossils said only that they had been "uncovered in the Gobi Desert," by an unnamed British collector, which is a great way to describe the origins of a mysterious crystal ball in a children's story, but a less great way to describe the provenance of dinosaur fossils, a notoriously hot black market commodity.
President Tsakhia believes that the mysterious dinosaur bazaar aliased "the Gobi Desert," may in fact, be Mongolia. Several prominent paleontologists also released statements pointing out the dinosaur's origin story was suspect.
President Tsakhia says that the export of dinosaur bones and fossils is a criminal offense under Mongolian law.
Heritage Auctions contends that President Tsakhia made that up just now:
"[W]e are not aware of any treaty between the United States and Mongolia which would prevent the import into the United States and are equally unaware of any prohibition of export, particularly since Mongolia has not produced any factual or legal document supporting a possible claim."
This is not, however, the first time Mongolia has stated the export of dinosaur fossils from the country is illegal.
In a bid to halt the sale, Robert Painter filed a restraining order against Heritage Auctions on Saturday. He has stated he hopes to hold the auction house in contempt of court for continuing with the auction as planned.
In a press release, Heritage Auctions described Painter's stop-sale request as "misleading, unreasonable and inappropriate."
While the dinosaur was sold for $1,052,500, auction house president Gregory Rohan says it will not be delivered until the sale receives court approval (after-the-fact).
He also argued that the sale was done fair-and-square because only a moron would hold a giant public auction for a stolen artifact.
"Somebody doesn't put something like this in a major auction that is broadcast and promoted worldwide if they have got something to hide. If there is a title problem, you go and sell it secretly to someone in a backroom for a suitcase full of cash."
Of course, this argument does not allow for the existence of morons.