30 Nov 2023

US brings charges against Indian national in plot to kill Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in America brought charges against Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian national, in connection with his involvement in a thwarted plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil. 

The charges include murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence, and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, also with a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to Matthew G. Olsen, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Gupta is accused of conspiring from India to orchestrate the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader residing in New York City. The intended victim, a US citizen of Indian origin, had publicly advocated for a sovereign state for Sikhs. The indictment has not named the US citizen but he is believed to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, founder of the outlawed Sikhs for Justice.

Earlier reports had said that US authorities thwarted a plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, and issued a warning to the Indian government over concerns it was involved in the plot.

The Superseding Indictment, unveiled in the US district court for the Southern District of New York, outlined the details of the alleged plot involving Gupta. According to the indictment and other court documents, Gupta was recruited around May 2023 by an individual to coordinate the assassination of the victim in the United States.

'Plot was orchestrated by an Indian government employee'

The indictment revealed that the plot was orchestrated by an Indian government employee identifying as a "senior field officer" with responsibilities in 'security management' and 'intelligence.' This individual claimed to have served in the Central Reserve Police Force, receiving training in 'battle craft' and 'weapons.'

Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, 2023, in accordance with the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic. The arrest was made at the request of the United States, linking Gupta to his participation in the murder plot. The timeline for Gupta's extradition to the US remains uncertain.

This development coincided with India's announcement that it had formed a high-level enquiry committee on November 18 to investigate allegations regarding a conspiracy to kill the Sikh extremist on American soil. 

External affairs ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi stated that the US had shared "inputs" related to the nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, and terrorists. Bagchi emphasized India's serious consideration of such inputs, citing implications for national security interests, and noted that relevant departments were examining the issue.

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