In a move that could further strain India-US relations, the Justice Department on November 29 made public the name of an “Indian government employee” who has been indicted on a “murder-for-hire” charge in connection to his “participation in a foiled plot to assassinate” an American citizen in New York in June this year.
According to a Justice Department press release, uploaded on its website yesterday, a host of US officials working for various agencies, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) “announced the filing of murder-for-hire charges against an Indian national Nikhil Gupta, a/k/a ‘Nick’, in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen in New York City. Gupta is said to be 52-years-old.
“The charges are contained in a Superseding Indictment unsealed today (November 29) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case is pending before US District Judge Victor Marrero. Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, 2023, pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic,” the release said.
This expose, a strong step by the US, comes at a time when India-US relations have been rocked by Canadian and American allegations of Indian security agencies’ involvement in the assassination of at least one Sikh person in Canada a couple of months ago and an attempt on the life of another on US soil.
The Sikh individual is said to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Quoting US Attorney Damian Williams, the press release said, “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”.
Launching into a hard-hitting statement, Williams said, “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 US soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad.”
The following is an extract of the tell-all press release:
Earlier this year, an Indian government employee (“CC-1”), working together with others, including GUPTA, in India and elsewhere, directed a plot to assassinate on U.S. soil an attorney and political activist who is a U.S. citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City (the “Victim”).
Gupta is an Indian national who resides in India, is an associate of CC-1, and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others.
CC-1 is an Indian government agency employee who 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.” CC-1 directed the assassination plot from India.
In or about May 2023, CC-1 recruited Gupta to orchestrate the assassination of the victim in the United States. The victim is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a U.S.-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India that is home to a large population of Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India.
The victim has publicly called for some or all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, and the Indian government has banned the Victim and his separatist organization from India.
At CC-1’s direction, Gupta contacted an individual whom Gupta believed to be a criminal associate, but who was in fact a confidential source working with the DEA (the “CS”), for assistance in contracting a hitman to murder the Victim in New York City.
The CS introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was in fact a DEA undercover officer (the “UC”). CC-1 subsequently agreed in dealings brokered by GUPTA to pay the UC $100,000 to murder the Victim.
On or about June 9, 2023, CC-1 and GUPTA arranged for an associate to deliver $15,000 in cash to the UC as an advance payment for the murder. CC-1’s associate then delivered the $15,000 to the UC in Manhattan.
In or about June 2023, in furtherance of the assassination plot, CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information about the Victim, including the Victim’s home address in New York City, phone numbers associated with the Victim, and details about the Victim’s day-to-day conduct, which Gupta then passed to the UC.
CC-1 directed Gupta to provide regular updates on the progress of the assassination plot, which Gupta accomplished by forwarding to CC-1, among other things, surveillance photographs of the Victim.
Gupta directed the UC to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but Gupta also specifically instructed the UC not to commit the murder around the time of anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level U.S. and Indian government officials.
On or about June 18, 2023, masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada. Nijjar was an associate of the victim, and like the victim, was a leader of the Sikh separatist movement and an outspoken critic of the Indian government.
On or about June 19, 2023, the day after the Nijjar murder, Gupta told the UC that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets.” Gupta added that, in light of Nijjar’s murder, there was “now no need to wait” on killing the Victim. On or about June 20, 2023, CC-1 sent GUPTA a news article about the Victim and messaged Gupta, “[i]t’s [a] priority now.”