Under arrest in New York: T Rex's big brother!

Handcuffs aren't enough when there's a dinosaur in the cells...David Connett reports on an investigation of prehistoric proportions

From mobsters to errant politicians via terrorists, spies and common criminals, New York is no stranger to dramatic arrests, but even by the Big Apple's standards the most recent detainee in the custody of US Homeland Security officials this weekend is without precedent – a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton.

The dinosaur bones – 2.4 metres (8ft) tall and 7.3 metres long – are at the heart of an international wrangle amid claims that the bones were looted from Mongolia and later smuggled into the US from Britain.

New York district attorney Preet Bharara ordered last Friday's arrest after a lawyer acting for the President of Mongolia interrupted a New York auction as the dinosaur was being sold for $1m (£640,000), warning that the sale violated a Texan court order restraining the disposal of the bones.

US Homeland Security and Customs officials are now investigating how the skeleton made its way from Mongolia's Gobi desert to a US auction house via a Dorset farm and commercial dinosaur hunter from Florida. Investigators say they are keen to speak to British fossil-hunter Chris Moore who runs a company called Forge Fossils in Charmouth, at the heart of

Dorset's Jurassic Coast. They want to ask him about allegations that he helped finance the purchase of the dinosaur from a seller in Japan before shipping it to a farm workshop close to Charmouth, where restoration of the skeleton took place. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Mr Moore.

US Customs documents seen by The IoS show the bones were shipped by Mr Moore to Eric Prokopi, a self-described commercial palaeontologist, in Gainesville, Florida in March 2010. According to the invoice, the consignment included three crates of "unprepared fossil reptile heads and broken fossil bones", a "fossil lizard", and "unprepared fossil reptiles". The total value was put at $15,000 (£9,600).

Mr Moore did not respond to questions sent to him yesterday. His US lawyer declined to comment until he had spoken with federal prosecutors. Sources familiar with Mr Moore said he denies financing the purchase of the dinosaur or that he had "misdescribed" the fossil shipment to the US. Palaeontologists say the skeleton is of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, which has only been found in the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia.

Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale, said it believed its consignor "purchased the fossils in good faith, then spent a year ... restoring, mounting and preparing what had been a much less valuable matrix of unassembled, underlying bones".

Robert Painter, the lawyer asked to intervene by President Elbegdorj of Mongolia, said: "It is a criminal offence to smuggle culturally valuable artefacts out of the country ... However it came to be in the US, someone has failed to do due diligence on it."

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