Nicolas Cage has agreed to hand a rare stolen dinosaur skull he bought for $276,000 back to the US authorities so it can be returned to Mongolia.
The office of Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan, filed a civil forfeiture complaint last week to take possession of the Tyrannosaurus bataar skull, which will be repatriated to Mongolia.
The suit did not specifically name Cage as the owner but the Hollywood star’s publicist confirmed he bought the skull in 2007 from a gallery in Beverly Hills.
The National Treasure actor is not accused of wrongdoing, and authorities said he voluntarily agreed to turn over the skull after learning of the circumstances.
Cage was first contacted by US authorities in July 2014 when the Department of Homeland Security informed him the skull may have been stolen.
Cage outbid fellow movie star Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull, according to prior news reports.
The I.M. Chait gallery had previously purchased and sold an illegally smuggled dinosaur skeleton from convicted palaeontologist Eric Prokopi, whom Mr Bharara called a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils”.
The Chait gallery has also not been accused of wrongdoing.
It was unclear whether the Nicolas Cage skull was specifically connected to Prokopi, who pleaded guilty in December 2012 to smuggling a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton out of Mongolia’s Gobi desert and was later sentenced to three months in prison.
As part of his guilty plea, Prokopi helped prosecutors recover at least 17 other fossils.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar, like its more famous relative Tyrannosaurus rex, was a carnivore that lived approximately 70 million years ago.
Its remains have been discovered only in Mongolia, which criminalised the export of dinosaur fossils in 1924.