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Indian Citizen Accused of Plotting to Assassinate Sikh Separatist Leader Extradited to U.S.

Indian Citizen Accused of Plotting to Assassinate Sikh Separatist Leader Extradited to U.S.

  • Nikhil Gupta, 52, is being held on federal murder-for-hire charges, could face up to 20 years in prison, for orchestrating to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta, aka Nick, accused of helping with a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York City, has been extradited to the U.S. to stand trial. The 52-year-old was scheduled to appear today in a lower Manhattan courthouse on federal murder-for-hire charges. Gupta, who is currently being held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, faces up to 20 years in prison. 

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Gupta is an associate of an Indian government “senior field officer,” who recruited Gupta sometime in May last year “to orchestrate the assassination” on Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The Indian government official told Gupta that in exchange, he would help with getting a criminal case in India against him dismissed, according to the indictment. 

Pannun, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen living in New York, is a critic of the Indian government, according to the AP. He is the general counsel for the U.S.-based Sikhs for Justice, that supports the broader Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs. Pannun was designated a terrorist by the Indian government in 2020, an allegation he denies.

The Justice Department announced official charges against Gupta in November 2023, after he was arrested in the Czech Republic. Last month, “the Czech Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Gupta, who denied the charges he faces, against his extradition to the U.S.,” the BBC reported. 

In furtherance of the assassination plot, Gupta reached out to someone he believed was a criminal associate for assistance with finding a hit man, the indictment said. However, the person he reached out to was a source working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA source connected Gupta to the undercover DEA officer who pretended to be a hit man, the indictment said. 

A few days later, the Indian government employee gave Gupta Pannun’s information, including phone numbers, his day-to-day conduct, and his home address in New York City, the indictment said. The government employee offered to pay $100,000 for the assassination, the indictment further said. 

The indictment, according to the New York Times, included a photo of a roll of hundred-dollar bills that it said was an advance payment for the New York job.

In November, the White House said “it had raised the alleged assassination plot against Pannun with India at the most senior level, according to the BBC report.  “Indian officials distanced themselves from the alleged plot, saying such actions were against government policy,” the report said, adding that it had “formed a committee to investigate the allegations against Gupta.”

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In January, India’s Supreme Court rejected a plea from Gupta “which asked it to aid his release and help him get a fair trial,” BBC said. “The petition in India claimed Gupta was arrested by ‘self-claimed’ U.S. federal agents and had not yet been given a fair trial..” However, :India’s top court said it would not intervene in the case, adding that it was up to the government to take action,” the report added. 

Gupta’s charges came a few months after the murder of Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. Najjar was an associate of Pannun, the DOJ said, and “was a leader of the Sikh separatist movement and an outspoken critic of the Indian government.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had accused the Indian government of involvement in Nijjar’s killing.

A day after the killing, Gupta allegedly told the undercover DEA officer that Nijjar “was also the target” and in light of his murder, there was “now no need to wait” on killing Pannun, the DOJ said. Around the same time, the Gupta received a news article about Pannun from an Indian government employee and a message stating that the murder is now “a priority.”

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