Federal prosecutors in the United States have charged an official from Indian intelligence with allegedly orchestrating a plot from India to assassinate Khalistan separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. The scheme reportedly included another Indian national and two people, who were believed to be a source and a hitman, but were in fact undercover US officers.
The US Department of Justice has filed allegations in a Manhattan federal court against an Indian official who, according to the indictment, collaborated with Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian citizen also known as Nick. Gupta was apprehended by Czech authorities on June 30 of this year and faces charges of murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Each charge comes with a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
The accusation claims that the unnamed official, referred to as CC-1, is an employee of an Indian government agency. He has self-identified as a "Senior Field Officer" with duties in "Security Management" and "Intelligence." Furthermore, he has been mentioned as having served in the Central Reserve Police Force of India, where he received "officer training" in areas such as "battle craft" and "weapons."
Around May 2023, an Indian official enlisted Gupta to plan the murder of Pannun in the United States, according to the indictment. The official reassured Gupta that his issues in Gujarat had been resolved and he would no longer be troubled. Additionally, he proposed to facilitate a meeting between Gupta and a Deputy Commissioner of Police, also referred to as "DCP".
The indictment stated that Gupta, who lives in India, has openly discussed his participation in global drug and weapons smuggling in his correspondences with the official and other individuals.
Following the instructions of the official, Gupta reached out to a person he assumed was a criminal partner. However, this person was actually a "confidential source" cooperating with US law enforcement. This confidential source, known as CS, connected Gupta with a supposed hitman who was in reality an undercover US law enforcement officer, also referred to as UC.
In transactions orchestrated by Gupta, the Indian official consented to pay the undercover officer USD 100,000 to assassinate Pannun.
The allegations mentioned in the indictment, along with the preceding visits of the CIA director and the US National Security Advisor to India prior to the comments made by the Canadian Prime Minister, serve as an indication of the type of information shared and gathered by the Five Eyes alliance partners.
The indictment revealed that an Indian official reached out to Gupta on approximately June 2, 2023, seeking an update on the planned murder and emphasizing its urgency. Gupta replied, promising an update the next day. On the subsequent day, around June 3, 2023, Gupta communicated with a confidential source via an audio call. He implored the source to urge his associates to execute the murder promptly, saying, "finish him brother, finish him, don't take too much time … push these guys, push these guys…finish…the job."
Around June 9, an arrangement was made between the Indian official and Gupta for a colleague to provide $15,000 in cash to the undercover officer as a prepayment for the assassination. The associate of the Indian official subsequently handed over the $15,000 to the undercover officer in Manhattan, as stated.
Around June 2023, an official from India gave Gupta personal details about Pannun, which included his residential address in New York City, phone numbers linked to him, and information about his daily activities. Gupta subsequently relayed this information to the undercover officer, as stated.
The narrative indicated that the Indian official instructed Gupta to consistently report on the advancement of the assassination scheme. Gupta fulfilled this by sending him various materials, including surveillance images of Pannun.
"Gupta directed the undercover officer to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but Gupta also specifically instructed him 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," the statement read.
Gupta elaborated that due to Pannun's high public visibility as an activist, his death might trigger demonstrations. These could potentially lead to "political things," implying that there could be geopolitical repercussions if Pannun were to be assassinated on US territory during the scheduled meetings.
Gupta conveyed that subsequent to the scheduled meetings, there would be an increase in targeted eliminations similar to the one of the Victim, suggesting future employment opportunities. He was directed by an Indian official not to execute the assassination around the time of, or during, the arranged interactions among top-ranking U.S. and Indian government representatives. For instance, on June 11, 2023, upon receiving further alleged surveillance images of the Victim (Pannun) from Gupta, the Indian official communicated to Gupta, "It looks promising .. but we have today only .. if it doesn’t happen today it will be done after 24th" referring to the period after the meetings.
By the way, between June 21 and 23, Prime Minister Modi made a state visit to the US where he had a meeting with US President Joe Biden.
The legal charges mention the incident on June 18, where Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed by unidentified armed men wearing masks, just outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada.
The charge sheet stated, "Later that evening, the Indian official 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 the Indian official for permission to go to the field."
The Indian representative replied, emphasizing the importance of confidentiality and suggesting it would be best not to participate in any action. Roughly an hour after this conversation, Gupta received a message from the same official, providing him with the residential address of Pannun in New York City.
The report indicated that Gupta sent the video clip, which displayed Nijjar's bloodied body, to both the undercover and confidential officer just minutes after obtaining it from the Indian official.
Shortly after, around June 19, Gupta had an audio conversation with the undercover officer. During this call, Gupta informed the officer that Nijjar was also a target, ranking as '#4, #3' on their list. However, he reassured the officer not to fret as they had an abundance of targets. He then shared some good news, stating there was no longer a need to wait, according to the indictment.
In a separate instance, Gupta had an audio conversation with the informant, in which he validated that Nijjar was the individual he had referred to earlier as the prospective Canadian "assignment", saying, “This is the guy, I send you the video …. We didn’t give to (the undercover officer) this job, so some other guy did this job … in Canada.”
In a departure from his previous directive to postpone the murder of the victim (Pannun) until after the planned meetings between senior US and Indian government representatives, Gupta instructed the source to eliminate Pannun immediately. He informed the source that they had received approval to proceed at any time, even as early as that day or the next.
Gupta reportedly informed the source that Pannun, the victim, would likely exercise increased caution following the Nijjar murder, as his colleague in Canada had been killed, a fact underscored by a video Gupta had sent. Gupta emphasized the need to avoid giving them any opportunity and to take decisive action even if Pannun was not alone during the meeting, suggesting that everyone present should be 'put down', as stated in the indictment.
Around June 19, the day following Nijjar's assassination, Gupta informed the UC that Nijjar was also on their hit list, mentioning they had numerous targets. Gupta further stated that due to Nijjar's demise, there was no longer any necessity to delay the Victim's assassination. Approximately on June 20, an Indian official forwarded a news article about the Victim to Gupta and messaged him that it was now a priority, according to the indictment.
Soon after, Gupta communicated with the undisclosed informant via an audio call, instructing them to "find the opportunity” to kill Pannun and to "do it swiftly." Gupta declared that they had to "finish four jobs" before the "29th of June," which included the target (Pannun) and thereafter, "three in Canada," according to the indictment.
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