U.S. Charges Indian National In Alleged Assassination Plot Of Sikh Separatist Leader

Nikhil Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities on June 30 and then extradited to the U.S in connection to the Pannun killing.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>(Source: U.S. Justice Department website)</p></div>
(Source: U.S. Justice Department website)

The U.S. Justice Department has charged an Indian national in connection with his alleged participation in a foiled plot to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York City.

Nikhil Gupta, aka Nick, 52, was arrested and detained by Czech authorities on June 30 and then extradited to the U.S. He is charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, according to a statement from the DOJ.

Each count carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison. To be sure, an indictment is merely an allegation that needs to be proven in a U.S. federal district court.

The department has unsealed an indictment which said Gupta, along with an Indian government employee and others, directed a plot to assassinate Pannun, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin, in New York City.

According to the indictment, Gupta is an associate of an "Indian government employee" and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with the individual and others.

U.S. authorities said the Indian government employee has links to security and intelligence services and has previously served in paramilitary unit Central Reserve Police Force and received weapons training.

The individual recruited Gupta to orchestrate the assassination of Pannun in May. Gupta contacted a person whom he believed to be a criminal associate, but who was in fact a confidential source working with U.S. law enforcement.

The individual subsequently agreed in dealings brokered by Gupta to pay the $1,00,000 to murder the victim.

Following the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada, in June, the individual sent Gupta a news article about the victim and said it is a "priority now" to kill Pannun.

Pannun and Nijjar reportedly had close links—both were active in the two countries in the separatist 'Khalistan' movement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had alleged Canadian agencies have credible leads of Indian involvement in the killing of Nijjar, chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force, who was murdered in a Vancouver suburb. India dismissed the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated”.

The move by U.S. authorities comes a week after the Financial Times reported the foiled plot to assassinate Pannun and the U.S. warning to the Indian government of concerns about its involvement in the planned killing.

India Forms Probe Panel On Allegations Of Plot To Kill Sikh Extremist On American Soil

India Forms Probe Panel

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Wednesday said India constituted a high-level enquiry committee on Nov. 18 to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter.

Bagchi said the U.S. side shared some "inputs" pertaining to a nexus between organised criminals, gun runners and terrorists, and that India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on "our national security interests as well". Relevant departments were examining the issue, he said.