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Indian accused of plotting to murder Sikh leader extradited to US

Getty Images A protester holds a banner depicting Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US-Canadian lawyer designated as a Khalistani terrorist by Indian, during a rally in Delhi on September 24, 2023

An Indian man accused of plotting to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil is expected to appear in a New York court on Monday on murder charges.

Nikhil Gupta was extradited to the US over the weekend after he was arrested last year in the Czech Republic.

He is charged by US authorities with trying to hire a hitman to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual US-Canadian citizen.

US prosecutors allege Mr Gupta was directed by an unnamed Indian government official. India denies having anything to do with the alleged plot.

Last month, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected a petition by Mr Gupta, who denies the charges he faces, against his extradition to the US.

Mr Gupta, 52, is expected to be produced in the lower Manhattan courthouse on federal murder-for-hire charges. The charges against him carry up to 20 years in prison.

Prison records show he is currently being held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn. The BBC has contacted his lawyers for comment.

On Monday, the Czech justice minister confirmed media reports, saying Mr Gupta had been extradited to the US on Friday, 14 June.

In November, US prosecutors charged Mr Gupta with a plot to kill at least four Sikh separatists in North America, including Mr Pannun.

Mr Gupta paid $100,000 (£79,000) in cash to a hitman to assassinate Mr Pannun, prosecutors said. The hitman, they added, was an undercover federal agent.

Mr Pannun is a dual US-Canadian citizen living in New York.

He is the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, an organisation based in the US that supports the broader Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs, who make up about 2% of India’s population.

Mr Pannun was designated a terrorist by the Indian government in 2020, an allegation he denies.

He was also an associate of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader who was shot dead in Canada in his car last year.

The murder led to a deterioration in India-Canada ties after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged there were “credible allegations” that Delhi had been involved. India denied the accusations.

In November, the White House said it had raised the alleged assassination plot against Mr Pannun with India at the most senior level.

Indian officials distanced themselves from the alleged plot, saying such actions were against government policy. Delhi said it had formed a committee to investigate the allegations against Mr Gupta.

A group of US lawmakers urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to lead a “strong diplomatic response” that would ensure all parties involved “are held accountable”, according to a 17 June letter that was obtained by the BBC.

The US and India “have a crucial relationship across multiple domains”, and their ties must “be grounded in shared commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law”, the letter adds.

In January, India’s Supreme Court rejected a plea from Mr Gupta which asked it to aid his release and help him get a fair trial. The petition in India claimed Mr Gupta was arrested by “self-claimed” US federal agents and had not yet been given a fair trial.

India’s top court said it would not intervene in the case, adding that it was up to the government to take action.

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