May 29, 2008— -- Click here to read an update on this story.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says the company that has made millions of dollars with U.S. exhibitions of plasticized human bodies used "the remains of individuals that may have been tortured and executed in China."
In announcing what he called the "grim reality" of an official investigation triggered by an ABC News "20/20" report, Cuomo said the company, Premier Exhibitions, "despite repeated denials...had no way of knowing the true source of their human exhibits and no meaningful documentation to support their claims that the bodies had been donated for such a use."
Cuomo said his office had reached a settlement with Premier that he said will "bring an end to Premier's practice of using bodies of undocumented origins in their exhibitions."
"Respect for the dead and respect for the public requires that Premier do more than simply assure us that there is no reason for concern," said Cuomo.
The Premier lawyer who negotiated the settlement, general counsel Brian Wainger, said, "We are happy to have this behind us." Wainger said the settlement terms only applied to exhibits in the state of New York but that the company would "adopt practices that mirror New York's requirements" in its operations worldwide.
In the "20/20" report on Premier, the then-premier CEO, Arnie Geller, denied using the bodies of executed prisoners and said all of the bodies had come from the Dalian Medical University in China.
The president of the medical school denied providing the bodies, and Geller resigned as CEO a few weeks after the broadcast. Officials said his resignation was not connected to the controversy.
The "20/20" report included first-person accounts of an individual who worked with the Chinese company that provided bodies to Premier. He claimed the bodies of executed prisoners were among those delivered for the "plastination" process carried out by the Chinese company.
Under the settlement with the New York attorney general, Premier will be required to obtain documentation "demonstrating the cause of death and origins of the cadavers" as well as written consent from the donors.
Cuomo also said "all prior visitors" to Premier's body exhibition in New York City are eligible for a full refund of the price of their ticket.
Wainger, the company's general counsel, said Premier had set aside $50,000 for refund requests. "We look forward to exhibiting our bodies show in New York for many years to come," he said.
Premier exhibits bodies in more than a dozen locations in the United States, South American and Europe.