Priceless prehistoric fossils, declared as "stones" mailed from Hong Kong and interdicted by a sharp-eyed CBP officer in March 2007, today officially returned to the Chinese government in a ceremony at the Embassy of China in Washington, D.C.
Representing CBP at the repatriation event, Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations Thomas Winkowski noted that CBP had returned relics to China before and would "continue to stress the importance of identifying priceless artifacts and
ensuring that we return them to their rightful owners."
Then-CBP Officer Daniel Nugent (now an ICE agent) discovered the fossils while X-raying packages at the Chicago Foreign Mail Unit. They looked like stones, he said. Suspicious of anyone shipping heavy, ordinary rocks from China, and having seen fossil smuggling before, he opened the packages to discover about 100 "little creature-like things embedded in stone" and wrapped in tissues, he said.
After Nugent contacted ICE, representatives from the two agencies took the stones to the Field Museum in Chicago, which classified the rocks as paleovertebrates approximately 525 million years old. CBP seized the fossils and ICE is continuing its investigation.
At today's ceremony, Chinese officials stated that China and the United States are committed to working more closely on law enforcement, including evidence and information sharing on illegal immigration and transnational crimes.
Assistant Commissioner Winkowski credited the "great demonstration of teamwork" by U.S. federal law enforcement personnel, China and the Field Museum.
Chinese Charge d' Affaires Xie Feng, Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security John Morton and Assistant Commissioner Winkowski signed the repatriation agreement, formally transmitting the artifacts to Chinese hands.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.