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Indian National Pleads Not Guilty In US Court For Alleged Khalistani Murder Plot

Nikhil Gupta, extradited from the Czech Republic to the US, pleads not guilty to charges in a murder-for-hire plot targeting a Sikh separatist on American soil. Accused of orchestrating the scheme under the direction of an Indian official, Gupta denies involvement amidst international scrutiny and diplomatic inquiries.

Edited By : News24 Desk | Updated: Jun 18, 2024 09:26 IST
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An Indian national extradited to the US pleads not guilty to charges in a murder-for-hire plot against a Sikh separatist.
An Indian national extradited to the US pleads not guilty to charges in a murder-for-hire plot against a Sikh separatist.

An Indian national, extradited from the Czech Republic to the US, has pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of involvement in a murder-for-hire plot targeting a Sikh separatist on American soil.

Nikhil Gupta, also known as Nick, was arrested at the age of 52 in the Czech Republic last June at the request of the US government. He faces charges related to a plot to assassinate Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. Pannun holds dual American and Canadian citizenship. On Monday, Gupta appeared before a federal court in New York, where he pleaded not guilty, according to his attorney, Jeffrey Chabrowe.

Last month, the Czech Constitutional Court dismissed Gupta’s petition against his extradition to the US to face charges. US prosecutors claim Gupta hired a hitman to kill Pannun, paying USD 15,000 in advance. They allege that Gupta was acting under the direction of an unnamed Indian government official. Gupta, through his attorney, has denied these allegations, stating he has been ‘unfairly charged.’

India has denied any involvement in the case and has launched a high-level investigation into the allegations. The Ministry of External Affairs previously dismissed reports of government involvement, calling them ‘unwarranted and unsubstantiated imputations’ regarding Indian agents’ role in the plot to kill Pannun. India has publicly stated that a high-level inquiry is examining the evidence shared by the US in the alleged plot to kill Pannun.

On Monday, the Czech Justice Minister announced that Gupta had been extradited to the US. ‘Based on my decision on June 3, Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta, suspected of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire with intent to cause death, was extradited to the US for criminal prosecution on Friday, June 14,’ stated Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blazek in a post on X. Czech authorities have also released footage of Gupta’s extradition on June 14, showing New York Police officials escorting him.

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‘This is a complex matter for both our countries,’ said Gupta’s attorney, Chabrowe, ahead of his client’s arraignment in federal court. ‘It is crucial not to rush to conclusions so early in the process. Background and details will emerge that may cast government allegations in a completely different light,’ Chabrowe stated. ‘We will vigorously pursue his defense and ensure he receives full due process, despite external pressures,’ he added.

‘This extradition demonstrates that the Justice Department will not tolerate attempts to silence or harm American citizens,’ stated US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday. ‘Nikhil Gupta will now face justice in an American courtroom for his involvement in an alleged plot, orchestrated by an Indian government employee, to target and assassinate a US citizen for supporting the Sikh separatist movement in India,’ he said.

‘This defendant has been extradited for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate a US citizen on American soil,’ said FBI Director Christopher Wray. ‘The FBI will not tolerate attempts by foreign nationals, or anyone else, to suppress constitutionally protected freedoms in the United States. We will continue to work with our partners domestically and internationally to protect our citizens and these sacred rights.’

According to court documents, last year, an Indian government employee (CC-1) allegedly collaborated with Gupta and others to plan an assassination of a US citizen of Indian origin on US soil. Gupta, an associate of CC-1, has admitted to involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others, according to a press release.

CC-1, an employee of an Indian government agency, described himself as a ‘senior field officer’ with duties in ‘security management’ and ‘intelligence.’ He also mentioned his previous service in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and ‘officer training’ in ‘battle craft’ and ‘weapons.’ CC-1 orchestrated the assassination plot from India, federal prosecutors allege, recruiting Gupta in May 2023 to execute the plan in the US.

At CC-1’s direction, Gupta contacted an individual he believed to be a criminal associate, who was actually a confidential source working with the DEA (the CS). The CS introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was an undercover DEA officer (the UC). CC-1 agreed, through Gupta, to pay the UC $100,000 to murder the victim. Around June 9, 2023, CC-1 and Gupta arranged for an associate to deliver $15,000 in cash to the UC as an advance payment for the murder.

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The associate delivered the $15,000 to the UC in Manhattan. In June 2023, CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information about the victim, including their home address, phone numbers, and daily activities, which Gupta passed to the UC. CC-1 instructed Gupta to regularly update him on the assassination plot’s progress, which Gupta did by forwarding surveillance photos of the victim.

Gupta urged the UC to carry out the murder quickly but instructed not to do it during anticipated engagements between high-level US and Indian officials. After Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed in Canada on June 18, 2023, Gupta allegedly told the UC that Nijjar ‘was also the target” and “we have so many targets.’ Around June 20, 2023, CC-1 sent Gupta a news article about the victim and messaged him, ‘(i)t’s (a) priority now,’ according to prosecutors.

First published on: Jun 18, 2024 09:26 AM IST

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