U.S. authorities said that an Indian government official directed a $100,000 plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh separatist leader advocating for a sovereign state for Sikhs, in New York City.
The charges were filed against Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian national living in India, for murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire.
Last spring, U.S. officials discovered the plot to kill Pannun, deemed a terrorist by the Indian government. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intervened, stopping the conspiracy when the foreign government employee, CC-1, recruited an international narcotics trafficker to carry out the murder, according to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30 through a bilateral extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. It remains unclear when he might be brought to the United States.
CC-1, described as a “senior field officer” in an Indian government agency with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence,” allegedly directed the plot. Pannun was identified in court papers as the “Victim.”
The indictment revealed that CC-1 recruited Gupta in May to coordinate the assassination. The case is sensitive due to the Biden administration’s efforts to improve ties with India and collaborate on countering China’s assertiveness.
The White House, while not directly commenting on Gupta’s charges, stated that officials promptly engaged with the Indian government when made aware of the plot. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson affirmed the seriousness of the information and underscored the need for an investigation.
U.S. officials, including CIA Director William Burns, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, raised the issue with Indian counterparts, emphasizing the importance of accountability and trust between the two nations.
The indictment detailed Gupta’s attempt to find a hitman for the assassination, but the individual he contacted turned out to be a confidential source working with the DEA. The confidential source introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was, in reality, a DEA agent.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith emphasized the reality of the plot, calling it “all too real” and praising the teamwork that exposed the conspiracy. Gupta faces charges of murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, each carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.