Washington, Nov 29, 2023- US prosecutors on Wednesday announced murder-for-hire charges against Indian national Nikhil Gupta for involvement in a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen allegedly on behalf of an Indian government employee.
Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities on June 30 in response to a request by the US under an extradition treaty, according to a statement issued by the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams.
The charges were announced in a superseding indictment unsealed on Wednesday.
Gupta, who is a resident of India, is alleged to be involved in international narcotics and weapons trafficking. The indictment describes him as an associate of an Indian government employee who has not been identified by name, but is allegedly an Indian government agency employee who, the US Attorney’s office has said, has variously described himself as a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence”, and who also has referenced previously serving in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and receiving “officer training” in “battle craft” and “weapons”.
This employee has been called “CC-1” in the indictment, which alleged he “was employed at all times relevant to the indictment by the Indian government, resides in India, and directed the assassination plot from India”.
The target of the assassination plot has also not been identified in the indictment. But he has been described as a lawyer who has been advocating secession of Punjab and that he has been a strident critic of the Indian government.
The man is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a New York who heads an organisation called Sikhs for Justice. “As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” said US Attorney Williams.
“I am grateful that my Office and our law enforcement partners neutralized this deadly and outrageous threat. We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on U.S. soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad.”
The indictment alleges that the Indian government employee CC-1 recruited Gupta in or around May 2023 to assassinate Pannun. Gupta, in turn, got in touch with a man he believed to be a “criminal associate” but was actually a confidential source of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Gupta asked him to find him a hitman for the assassination. The DEA informant put Gupta in touch with a man, who he said, would be the hitman. But this man was an undercover agent of the DEA.
The Indian government employee conveyed to Gupta that he will pay $100,000 for the assassination. On June 9, the indictment alleged, this official and Gupta agreed to pay the undercover DEA agent $15,000 as advance for the murder, and the money was delivered in Manhattan.
In June, the government employee provided some personal information about the target to Gupta and also asked for regular updates from his surveillance. The indictment alleged that Gupta directed the undercover agent to carry out the assassination as soon as possible but told him not to do it around an upcoming state visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in that month.
The indictment describes the visit “between high-level US and Indian government officials”.
On June 18, masked men killed Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistani separatist, in British Columbia, Canada. The next day, the indictment said, Gupta told the undercover agent that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets”. But, in light of Nijjar’s murder, Gupta is then alleged to have told the undercover agent there was “now no need to wait” on killing the target.
On or about June 20, 2023, the Indian government employee sent Gupta a news article about Pannun with a message that it’s a “priority now”. (Agency)