Defying a court order, a Dallas-based auction house sold a 24-foot-long, 8-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus fossil claimed to have been looted from Mongolia.
The fossil sold for $1,052,500 to an anonymous buyer.
On Friday, Houston attorney Robert Painter, filed a lawsuit in a Texas district court on behalf of the President of Mongolia stopping the sale and transfer of the huge fossil until legal ownership and proper provenance is proven in court.
Officials with Heritage Auctions were served with the temporary restraining order late Friday and today in New York, where the auction was held, both before and during the auction.
Mongolian protestors stood outside the auction with signs and posters demanding Mongolian property is returned.
When this particular lot came up for auction today, the auctioneer read a statement, "The sale of this next lot will be contingent on a satisfactory resolution of a court proceeding dealing with this matter."
At that point, attorney Robert Painter phoned Judge Carlos Cortez, of the 44th District Court of Dallas County, Texas, who signed the restraining order, on his cell phone. Painter stood up at the auction, and stated that the judge was on the telephone and that going forward with the auction, even contingent on the court proceeding, would violate the order.
Heritage Auctions President, Greg Rohan, rushed toward Painter, refused to speak with Judge Cortez, asked Painter to leave the room and directed that the auction proceed.
Painter said, "I am very surprised that Heritage Auctions knowingly defied a valid court order, particularly with the judge on the phone, listening and ready to explain his order. It makes me wonder if that Heritage Auctions has a similar disregard for the property laws that protect antiquities, like the Tyrannosaurus fossil, that they attempt to auction."
The 80 million year old fossil was found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in 2005. A team of UK and American scientists assembled it but Mongolian law prohibits the transport of such fossils outside the country.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar is a close cousin to the Tyrannosaurs rex.
The Tyrannosaurus fossil is 75 percent complete, the most complete fossil of any Tyrannosaurus species. Most museums have only 50 percent completed fossils of the gargantuan beast.
“These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia,” said Dr. Mark Norell, Chairman and Curator, American Museum of American History, Division of Paleontology, who worked in Mongolia for 22 years.
Heritage issued a statement before the auction that there was no reason to believe that US laws have been violated. The auction house also said Mongolian law would not have prevented export from Mongolia, claiming that Mongolia has not produced factual or legal document supporting the claim that the fossil was stolen.
The auction house said it has been advertising the sale for four weeks but Gregory Rohan, president of Heritage Auctions, said they will not deliver the fossil to its new owner until the restraining order is lifted.