Sunday, February 27, 2005

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Royal Thai Police (RTP) Friday announced the recovery of more than 1,300 pounds of priceless fossils and Thai and Khmer cultural antiquities slated for sale and exportation.

“These fossils are part of Thailand’s historical record and are not for sale to the highest bidder,” said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE. “Anybody possessing these items in the United States needs to do the right thing and … arrange for the artifacts to be returned.”

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said ICE agents in Bangkok received information in July that a Thai national, Piriya Vachajitpan, was selling Thai and Cambodian antiquities via online auction and illegally shipping the artifacts to the United States. He said ICE agents, working with the RTP, maintained undercover contact with Mr. Vachajitpan and discussed the purchase of indigenous fossils from Thailand, as well as Buddha images from both Thailand and Cambodia.

On Monday, undercover ICE and RTP agents met with Mr. Vachajitpan to purchase indigenous fossils from Thailand and Burma, and during the undercover negotiations, Mr. Boyd said, Mr. Vachajitpan led agents to his vehicle where the fossils were boxed and packaged.

Mr. Boyd said an undercover agent examined the fossils for authenticity and determined that they all appeared to be genuine, some dating back to the Cretaceous Period, between 145 million and 165 million years ago. He said that during the examination the RTP placed Mr. Vachajitpan under arrest for attempting to sell and export Thai artifacts.

Later, he said, the fossils were transported and examined by a paleontologist, who authenticated all of the fossils. A search warrant was issued based on the authenticity of the fossils, and the RTP located about 1,300 pounds of fossils at Mr. Vachajitpan’s residence.

Mr. Boyd said the fossils, which were seized pursuant to Thai law, are believed by scientists to derive from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and include bones from sauropodsand theropods. Since 1998, he said, Mr. Vachajitpan had shipped several thousand pieces to the United States, mainly to individual buyers and small antique shops.

He said persons wishing to return items they may have purchased should call 866/DHS-2ICE.

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