Over at the Americans for Forfeiture Reform website, policy analyst Scott Meiner reports on the federal civil asset forfeiture complaint in the matter of United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton. This is an unusual case as the government’s case nakedly asserts, with no supporting evidence, that Eric Prokopi, owner of this particular dinosaur skeleton illegally imported the skeleton from Mongolia (Prokopi has manifests indicating he imported the skeleton from Great Britain). Additionally, the US government’s legal argument is premised on the impossibility of anyone in Mongolia owning fossils as private property, a claim that stems from the Communist-era First Mongolian Constitution, which prohibits the ownership of private property. Prokopi’s motion to dismiss notes:
“However, the Soviet-era constitution and regulations have been superseded by other laws that recognize private property and the wording of the later laws fall short of what is required to establish state ownership under applicable case law. While the Complaint relies upon a 1924 Soviet era constitution to establish state ownership over fossils, it fails to mention that this constitution and its communist era successors were superseded in 1992 by another constitution that recognizes private property rights and which sees the State as a protector—not sole owner—of cultural objects.
In particular, the Government cites Article Three, Section One of the First Mongolian constitution, enacted in 1924 for the proposition that “all assets and resources…shall be under the possession of the people, thus making private property of them prohibited.” (Complaint ¶ 10.) On the other hand, Article Sixteen, Section Three of Mongolia’s post-communist 1992 constitution explicitly protects “[r]ight to fair acquisition, possession and inheritance of movable and immovable property.” 1992 Constitution Art. 16 (3), Tompa Decl.Ex. B. And while “mineral wealth” shall be the “property of the state” nothing is said of paleontological objects found on or in the soil.”
In case this isn’t all clear, the US Government thinks it can seize and forfeit your property, if it believes that said property has been illegally imported, without evidence, and can rely on defunct Communist laws of other nations to substantiate claims of illegal importation. As Meiner notes:
“One is left to wonder whether the prosecution believes in property rights-at all. The argument seems to be that the property is forfeitable to the government, at the want of the government, if the government says so.”