BANGKOK, Thailand – Police acting on a tip from U.S. officials arrested a man trying to sell dinosaur fossils at least 100 million years old and valuable antiques over the Internet, Thai police said Friday.
Undercover police arrested Piriya Wachachitphan, 25, and confiscated 108 large dinosaur fossils and five boxes containing smaller pieces from his home in Bangkok, police Lt. Gen. Thani Somboonsab said.
“It is the first time that police have arrested a smuggler of dinosaur fossils in Thailand,” he said.
Since 1999, Piriya sold more than 1,000 cultural artifacts, including Buddha images, worth more than $200,000, police said.
At a news conference announcing the arrest, Mark Robinson, a Bangkok-based official for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, described the arrest as “quite significant.”
“Usually we found people selling one or two pieces. We have not discovered an individual that had thousands of stolen pieces over the course of seven years,” he said.
Police said Piriya told them the dinosaur fossils were purchased from villagers in the northeastern provinces of Kalasin and Khon Kaen, an area of growing archaeological importance.
Thai and U.S. police cooperated on the case for eight months after American authorities seized illegally traded stolen artifacts exported from Thailand, Robinson said. Some items originated in Cambodia, which has seem rampant plundering of its cultural heritage during the past few decades.
Robinson said the U.S. Cyber Smuggling Center in Washington worked closely with Internet companies to stop the trading of illegal items through Web sites.
The trade of ancient artifacts is illegal in Thailand and carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of $18,248. Piriya was freed on bail pending trial.