Nicolas Cage has to give back a national treasure: He'll be returning a 67-million-year-old dinosaur skull to the Mongolian government.
The Oscar winner, who bought the skull in 2007 for $276,000, was contacted by U.S. authorities saying that his Tyrannosaurus bataar fossil had been illegally smuggled out of Mongolia.
Last week, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan filed a civil forfeiture complaint to take possession of the item; however, the suit did not name Cage as the owner, according to Reuters.
The 32-inch-long skull is one of several fossils and skeletons illegally taken from and returned to Mongolia, the Associated Press reported, and this particular fossil hails from the late Cretaceous period, which ended about 65 million years ago.
In court papers obtained by the AP, prosecutors said that the skull was unlawfully taken from the Gobi Desert and was shipped from Japan to Gainesville, Fla., in June 2006 by being falsely labeled as "fossil stone pieces." After that, it was auctioned in Manhattan on March 25, 2007, for $230,000 with a commission that raised the price to $276,000.
Cage's publicist, Alex Schack, did confirm to The Times on Tuesday that Cage bought the skull in 2007 during a national history sale by the I.M. Chait auction house and the actor also received a certificate of authenticity from the auction company. The 51-year-old got into a bidding war with Leonardo DiCaprio for the item, according to previous reports.
The actor's representatives were contacted in July 2014 by the Department of Homeland Security and informed him that a multiyear investigation indicated that the skull may have been smuggled from Mongolia, Schack said.
The "National Treasure" star "fully cooperated with the investigation, including arranging for an inspection of the fossil by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. attorney's office," his publicist said, adding that Cage agreed to transfer possession of the skull once it had been determined that it was indeed smuggled and rightfully belongs to the government of Mongolia.
Neither Cage nor the gallery has been accused of any wrongdoing.
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