Wednesday, November 29, 2023
LONDON: US law enforcement authorities have announced filing a "murder-for-hire" charge against Indian national Nikhil Gupta in what they said was a "foiled plot to assassinate" pro-Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York City allegedly supervised by an Indian government official.
Sources said Indian national Gupta is a veteran agent working for the Indian spy agency RAW.
The US indictment said that Gupta, an Indian national residing 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" and that he was being directed by the Indian government official to kill Pannun, who is Sikhs For Justice’s (SFJ) founder and spokesman of Khalistan Referendum.
He has been charged with murder-for-hire over the plot, which prosecutors said was orchestrated from India against the Sikh leader who lives in New York
Shortly after the indictment was unsealed, the White House said it had raised the issue with the Indian government at the most senior levels. It added that Indian officials responded with "surprise and concern".
"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," US Attorney Damian Williams said.
"We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on US soil," he added.
Sikhs are a religious minority that makes up about 2% of India's population. Some groups have long called for a separate homeland for Sikhs.
The Indian government has often reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan, or a separate homeland.
The US indictment at the District Court Southern New York says Nikki Gupta is also known as Nick.
It said: “Earlier this year, an identified Indian got employee (CC-1) working together with others in India and elsewhere, including Nikhil Gupta, directed a plot to assassinate on US soil an attorney and political activist (Gurpatwant Singh Pannun) who is a US Citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City.”
“The victim is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a US based organization (Sikhs For Justice) that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in 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. US law enforcement detected and disrupted the plot to murder the victim.”
“CC-1 has variously described being employed by the Indian government as a "Senior Field Officer" with responsibilities in "Security Management" and "Intelligence." CC-1 also has referenced previously serving in India's Central Reserve Police Force, and receiving "officer training" in "battle craft" and "weapons." CC-1 was employed at all times relevant to this Indictment by the Indian government, resides in India, and directed the assassination plot from India.”
The indictment said in May 2023, CC-1 recruited Gupta to orchestrate the assassination of Pannun. It said that the assassin Gupta is an Indian national who also 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.”
According to the US indictment, 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 US law enforcement (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 an undercover US law enforcement 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 in Manhattan, New York, as an advance payment for the murder. “
It revealed: “In or about June 2023, in furtherance of the assassination plot, CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information about Pannun including his 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-I, among other things, surveillance photographs of the victim that the UC had sent to Gupta who directed the UC to cany 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 US and Indian government officials.”
It said that on June 18, 2023, masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada. Nijjar was an associate of Pannun.
“Later that evening, just hours after the Nijja murder, CC-1 sent Gupt a video clip that showed Nijjar's bloody body slumped in his vehicle; about an hour later, CC-1 sent Gupta the street address of the victim's residence in New York City.”
“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" to kill Pannun. On or about June 20, 2023, CC-1 sent Gupta a news article about the
The indictment said that on June 30, 2023, Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the United States in connection with his participation in the plot to murder Pannun.
The indictment said that the RAW officer asked Gupta that his criminal case in India would be dismissed if he killed Pannun. “Gupta agreed to orchestrate the assassination. They also discussed another Sikh in California.
The Indian RAW agent told Gupta on May 12, 2023, that his criminal case "has already been taken care of" and that "nobody from Gujrat police is calling."
On or about May 23, 2023, CC-1 again assured Gupta that they had "spoken with the boss about your Gujarat case," that it was "all clear," and "nobody will ever bother you again."
CC-1 further offered to arrange a meeting between Gupta and a "DCP," which is an acronym used in India for Deputy Commissioner of Police.
The indictment said following CC-1’s assurances, Gupta pressed forward to arrange the murder. On or about May 29, 2023, Gupta asked the CS by phone if they knew anyone who would be willing to carry out a murder-for-hire in the United States.
“Gupta explained that the intended victim was a lawyer who split time between New York City and another US. city. The CS responded that he would reach out to his contacts.”
“Over the ensuing weeks, Gupta engaged in a series of electronic and recorded communications with the CS and later the UC, including by phone, video, and text message, during which they discussed, among other things, the logistics and price of the murder.”
“For example, during a video call, Gupta reminded the CS that the victim worked as a lawyer and suggested that the CS's associates could contact the victim under the guise of obtaining legal advice in order to lure the victim to a place where he could be more easily executed. Gupta also directed the CS to a website where the CS could find New York and US. City-I addresses for Pannun's offices.”
“On or about May 29, 2023, Gupta messaged the CS the victim's name and other information about the victim, and advised that the victim spent most of his time in New York. In response, the CS asked Gupta for additional information about the victim and details about payment for the murder.”
The indictment said that on or about May 29, 2023, Gupta sent screenshots to CC-1 of Gupta’s text messages with the CS, in which the CS requested details about the victim and about payment for killing the victim.
“CC-1 responded that ‘we are ready to pay $150000, the offer will go higher depending upon the quality of the work...and if it's done as soon as possible," referring to the murder ("the work") and executing the plot quickly. Gupta replied to CC-1 with a screenshot of the CS requesting “100K”.
CC-I responded "Ok," and then added that while an advance payment was not possible, "the whole money will be paid within 24 hours after the work is done."
On or about June 1, 2023, CC-1 sent Gupta the street address for the victim's home in New York City, which CC-1 described to Gupta as "the locality of [the victim's] House."
The indictment said that on or about June 2, 2023, CC-1 messaged Gupta and Gupta directed the CS to a particular cell phone application that records Global Positioning System ("GPS") coordinates and enables the user to take photographs (the "GPS Application"), which CC-1 had previously sent to Gupta on or about May 25, 2023, and Gupta asked the CS to have the CS's associates in New York use the GPS Application to transmit surveillance of the victim.
Later that day, Gupta messaged CC-1 that Gupta had "spoken with the NY group" and "told them they have to discharge [the victim] as soon as possible.''
On or about June 4, 2023, Gupta again spoke with the CS by audio call, and promised the CS that "if this job is done successfully" then Gupta would "bring the chief' to meet the CS. Gupta further noted that Gupta would be speaking with those directing the murder.”
The indictment said: “As their plotting continued, and CC-1 and Gupta sought to orchestrate the assassination as soon as possible, CC-1 and Gupta offered to make an upfront cash payment to the CS for the murder.”
“As set forth below, CC-1 and Gupta arranged the payment of $15,000 in cash to the UC in Manhattan, as an advance payment for the murder of the victim. On or about June 4, 2023, the CS sent Gupta a purported surveillance photograph of the victim taken using the GPS Application (the "Surveillance Photo").”
The CS represented to Gupta via text message that the surveillance photo was proof that the CS's New York associates were monitoring the victim and that the victim would be killed as soon as they received an advance payment of $25,000. On or about June 5, 2023, Gupta sent the surveillance photo and a screenshot of the CS's messages to CC-1. Gupta asked CC-1 to "check with [his] NY dealer if he can arrange the 25k [payment] there.
“On or about June 6, 2023, Gupta messaged the CS asking to be put directly in touch with the CS's New York associates who would receive the advance payment and cany out the murder of the victim.”
The US said that on June 9, 2023, Individual 2 met the UC in Manhattan to make the advance payment. During the meeting, which took place in the UC's vehicle, on or about June 10, 2023, Gupta sent to CC-1 screenshots of Gupta's text message conversations with the CS and the UC, in which both confirmed that the advance payment had been made. CC-1 responded, "Ok bhai ji."
The indictment said: “As they plotted the murder of the victim, Gupta specifically and repeatedly instructed the CS not to carry out the assassination during anticipated engagements between high-level government officials from the United States and India.”
“For example, on or about June 6, 2023, on an audio call, Gupta instructed the CS that ‘we need to calm down everything 10 days’ because of such engagements scheduled to occur over the ensuing weeks.”
Gupta explained that, given the victim's public profile as an activist, there could be protests in the wake of his death, which could lead to "political things," referring to geopolitical fallout if the victim were assassinated on US soil during those planned meetings.
Gupta added that after the planned engagements, there would be "more jobs, more jobs," referring to more targeted killings like that of the victim to be carried out in the future.
“Consistent with the instructions that Gupta relayed to the CS, CC-1 instructed Gupta not to carry out the assassination of the victim in the immediate lead-up to, or during, the planned engagements between high-level US and Indian government officials. For example, on or about June 11, 2023, after receiving from Gupta additional purported surveillance photographs of the victim, CC-I messaged Gupta: "It looks promising.. but we have today only.. if it doesn't happen today it will be done after 24 ," that is, after the engagements.
“During Gupta’s communications with the CS and the UC, Gupta repeatedly emphasized that his co-conspirators directing the assassination plot from India had extensive resources and were closely monitoring the progress of the plotting.
For example, on or about June 12, 2023, the UC received a video call from Gupta, who appeared to be in a conference room.
“During the call, Gupta turned the camera toward approximately three other men in the room who were dressed in business attire, sitting around a conference table with Gupta. As Gupta turned the camera back toward himself, he told the UC "we are all counting on you."
The indictment said that the Indian official discussed killings in Canada with Gupta and others and within days Nijjar was killed.
It said: “Later that evening, CC-1 sent Gupta a video clip showing Nijjar's bloody body slumped in his vehicle. Gupta replied that he wished he had personally conducted the killing and asked CC-1 for permission to "go to the field."
CC-1 responded that "secrecy [is] important," and "[i]t's better you do not get involved in action." Approximately one hour later, CC-1 sent Gupta the street address of the victim's residence in New York City.
“Gupta forwarded the video clip showing Nijjar's bloody body to the CS and the UC minutes after receiving it from CC-1. Soon after, on or about June 19, 2023, Gupta spoke with the UC by audio call, and Gupta told the UC that Nijjar "was also the target" but that Nijjar was "#4, #3" on the list, and "not to worry [because] we have so many targets, we have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: now no need to wait.
“Separately, Gupta also held an audio call with the CS, during which Gupta confirmed that Nijjar was the target that Gupta had previously mentioned as the potential Canadian "job" stating: "This is the guy, I send you the video.... We didn't give to [the UC] this job, so some other guy did this job ... in Canada."
The Indian agent then asked Gupta to kill Pannun as soon as possible. “Gupta told the CS that the UC should kill the victim as soon as possible, informing the CS that "we got the go-ahead to go anytime, even today, tomorrow- as early as possible. [The UC] has to finish this job, brother.”
“Gupta also told the CS to expect the victim to be more careful in the wake of the Nijjar murder: "He will be more cautious, because in Canada, his colleague is down. His colleague is down. I sent you the video. So he will be more cautious, so we should not give them the chance, any chance.”
“After the Nijjar murder in Canada, Gupta demanded rapid updates from the UC on the progress of the plot to murder the victim, which Gupta then reported to CC-1. Gupta simultaneously relayed intelligence on the victim's whereabouts from CC-1 to the UC. At one point, on or about June 22, 2023, CC-1 messaged Gupta that the victim "is somewhere else," that "[h]e is not at home," and that CC-1 "got the message from the boss." Gupta immediately attempted to call the UC.
Over the next days, the Indian RAW agent became desperate and asked Gupta to kill Pannun at any cost and as soon as possible but on June 30, 2023, Gupta travelled from India to the Czech Republic, and upon his arrival in the Czech Republic, Gupta was arrested by Czech law enforcement authorities at the request of the United States, in connection with his participation in the plot to assassinate the victim.”
The Grand Jury has charged Gupta and other Indian spies with conspiracy to murder and murder for hire the US and Canadian national Pannun.