Indian national accused of murder-for-hire plot arrives in New York

An Indian citizen accused of attempting to kill a Sikh separatist in New York has been extradited to the U.S. ahead of an expected federal court appearance, people with knowledge of the situation confirmed.

The defendant, Nikhil Gupta, has been charged with murder for hire linked to a foiled plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen who advocates for an independent Sikh state. Gupta, 52, is listed on the Board of Prisons inmate website as being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, a federal administrative detention facility.

Gupta’s lawyers have said he is a law-abiding businessman unjustly caught up in the escalating geopolitical “crossfire” between the United States and the Indian government.

Gupta, who had been detained in the Czech Republic, arrived in New York over the weekend, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal proceedings. Typically, extradited defendants must appear in court within a day of their arrival in the country.

Federal prosecutors say a senior Indian government intelligence employee ordered the assassination of Pannun in May and hired Gupta to arrange the hit. U.S. authorities broke up the plot last June before it could be carried out. Pannun works as general counsel for the New York-based Sikhs for Justice, a group that seeks to carve from India an independent Sikh state called Khalistan.

Gupta’s attorney, Rohini Musa, wrote in a petition to the Indian Supreme Court that her client is being unfairly prosecuted, saying there is “nothing on record to link the Petitioner to the massive alleged plot to assassinate the alleged victim.”

Musa complained that Gupta received adverse legal advice from a Czech government-appointed attorney “under the undue influence of … U.S. Agencies” during the initial phase of his detention. She said India and the United States were “going back and forth to blame each other for their foreign policy.”

Prosecutors said that hours after the assassination of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada on June 18, 2023, the unnamed Indian government agent sent Gupta a “video clip that showed Nijjar’s bloody body slumped in his vehicle.” Hours later, according to the indictment, the Indian government agent sent Gupta the street address of Pannun. The same person messaged Gupta two days later, saying that the assassination of Pannun was a “priority now.”

In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” that agents of the Indian government were behind Nijjar’s killing.

Aaron Schaffer contributed to this report.

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