Accused Indian Murderer Back In US – OpEd


Indian national Nikhil Gupta, accused in US for involvement in the attempted murder of a Sikh extremist,  has been extradited by the Czech Republic back to US to stand trial.

This case has caused considerable tensions in India-US bilateral relations with the Americans alleging involvement of Indian intelligence officials in the plot to kill ‘Sikh For Justice’ Gurupatwant Singh Pannun, who is a well known Khalistani separatist leader. Pannun has threatened Hindus and Indian diplomats in North America with violence and pivoted a referendum in Indian Punjab to determine the province’s future.

Gupta, 52, was arrested in the Czech Republic last year at the request of the US government on charges of hiring a professional killer to eliminate Pannun at the behest of  India’s external intelligence agency RAW.

The Czech Constitutional Court last month rejected a petition by Gupta against his extradition to the US to face the charges.

US federal prosecutors allege that Gupta had been working on the orders of an unnamed Indian intelligence official, but India has denied any involvement in such a case and has instituted a high-level investigation to look into the allegations.

Gupta is currently lodged at the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn and expected to be produced before a federal court in New York on Monday.

Gupta is listed as an inmate at the Brooklyn detention Centre, according to The Washington Post — the first news outlet to report his extradition.

“Gupta, who had been detained in the Czech Republic, arrived in New York over the weekend, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive legal proceedings. Typically, extradited defendants must appear in court within a day of their arrival in the country,” the report said.

Federal prosecutors allege that Gupta hired a hitman to kill Pannun and paid $15,000 in advance.

Gupta, through his attorney, has denied the charges and said that he has been “unfairly charged”.

“Gupta’s attorney, Rohini Musa, wrote in a petition to the Indian Supreme Court that her client is being unfairly prosecuted, saying there is “nothing on record to link the petitioner to the massive alleged plot to assassinate the alleged victim,” The Washington Post said.

“Musa complained that Gupta received adverse legal advice from a Czech government-appointed attorney under the undue influence of US Agencies during the initial phase of his detention.”

She said India and the United States were ‘going back and forth to blame each other for their foreign policy,’ the daily reported.

Gupta’s extradition comes ahead of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s planned visit to New Delhi this week for the annual initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology dialogue with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

Pannun holds dual American and Canadian citizenship.

The Washington Post in April 2024 had reported that Vikram Yadav, a Research and Analysis Wing officer, was the Indian official behind the plot. But this author has checked and found the existence of no officer by that name in RAW’s staff roll. It could well be that intelligence officers use multiple non de plume to cover their tracks and Vikram Yadav could be just a red herring to dodge investigations.

Washington Post also said the then R&AW chief Samant Goel sanctioned the operation during his extended tenure at the head of thr agency which is said to have become increasingly aggressive in dealing with India’s enemies abroad since Ajit Doval took over as India’s National Security Advisor in 2014.

Pakistan alleged RAW’s involvement in more than two dozen killings of known terrorists responsible for attacks on India in the last two years. Three top Sikh terrorists have also been neutralised in Canada, leading to ripples in Delhi-Ottawa relations, one of whom was involved in a 1985 bombing of an Air India jetliner that killed 329 passengers and crew. 

The Indian ministry of external affairs, however, dismissed the report on Pannun murder plot, saying it makes ‘unwarranted and unsubstantiated imputations’ to claim that Indian agents were involved in the plot to kill Pannun.

India has publicly said a high-level inquiry is looking into the evidence shared by the US in the alleged plot to kill Pannun. 

But privately Indian security officials hold true to what they believe is their right to hit at terror merchants on foreign soil who threaten India.

“If Israel and the Americans can do it , even attack a whole country like Afghanistan to avenge 9/11, why can’t we sort out those who bring down Indian passenger planes,” said Intelligence Bureau veteran Benu Ghosh. 

“There can’t be one standard for the West and one for India,” he said.

Subir Bhaumik

Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC and Reuters correspondent and author of books on South Asian conflicts.

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