Beijing, Nov. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- China has opened the trial of the most
notorious ancient animal fossil smuggling case, involving 2,925 pieces in
eastern Zhejiang Province and revealing a huge loophole in protecting the
According to Thursday's People's Daily, the trial opened in a local court on
Nov. 1. Suspects Zhu Chunlin, a Canadian-Chinese, and his complices are accused
of having been buying and smuggling paleobiofossils to the United States or
reselling them on domestic market since 2003.
The two were caught by customs officials last November, when officials spotted
1,141 fossils they planned to smuggle abroad and later 1,784 pieces they
sold or hid in northeast Jinzhou city and Shanghai, including Jurassic
hyphalosaurus fossils over 150 million years old, and Triassic keichousaurus hui
fossils and ichthyosaurus fossils that date back over 200 million years, all
banned from being exported out of China.
But the case is not unprecedented. During 2002 and 2004, three smuggling
cases were found each involving more than 2,000 paleobiofossils.
Reckless smugglers are driven by huge gains of selling the fossils
overseas, said Liu Lujun, a paleontologist who inspected the fossils seized in
the ongoing case.
Ancient animal fossils are sold at prices generally ten times that in the
Chinese market in foreign markets . A Confucius bird fossil, priced at only
20,000 to 30,000 yuan, would cost 100,000 dollars or more in a foreign country.
As an international black market takes shape, the number of fossils
slipping out of China to overseas regions is striking. More than 100 Confucius
bird fossils, the oldest fossils found on earth, have been smuggled from China
to Tuscon, Arizona, US, alone.
There are only 20 Confucius bird fossils left in Chinese museums.
"A paleobiofossil is of great scientific value that money failsto measure,"
Liu said. " Paleobiofossils are not renewable. One piece smuggled abroad, one
piece we lose."
The gloomy situation is blamed on China's lack of a specified law to
protect the fossils and punish smugglers and poor multi-ministry coordination,
China has not a single law to deal with the protection and smuggling of
ancient animal fossils, though as early as 2002, the first local regulations
were issued in a small county in southwestGuizhou Province to protect fossils
and guard against smuggling there.
Moreover, there is no clear legal interpretation spelling outwhether
ancient animal fossils are antiques, which lead to the protection of the two to
fall into the jurisdictions of two different government departments.
While antiquities are looked after by the State Bureau of Cultural Relics,
the protection of paleobiofossils is taken care of by the Ministry of Land and
Resources, whose regulations focus only on fossil excavation, not on smuggling
In China's legal system, profiting from fossils is not specified in terms
of legal obligation.
There is not even a unified national standard for fossil appraisal, which
increases the difficulty in China's fossil protection, experts said. Enditem