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Pannun ‘assassination’ plot: How accused Nikhil Gupta was nabbed in Prague, handed over to US days before indictment

Nikhil Gupta, an Indian citizen accused by the United States (US) of plotting to assassinate a Khalistan separatist, was moved from a high security prison facility in Prague to US jurisdiction in mid-November, the India Express reported. This was days before the indictment was filed in a New York court.

Who is Nikhil Gupta?

According to the the American indictment, the alleged plot to assassinate Khalistan separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on US soil began in May, with a text message between an Indian security official and Nikhil Gupta.

The prosecutors described Gupta as an Indian national involved in drugs and weapons trafficking, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the senior official reportedly wanted Gupta to orchestrate the target’s murder, in exchange for getting criminal charges against him in India dropped.

From Prague to US

Now, a recent report by the Indian Express shared a fresh information in the case. It said Gupta (52) was at Prague airport when Czech authorities arrested and detained him on June 30. He was said to be in the Czech Republic for “business and tourism” purposes. However, “the Czech National Drug authorities were tipped off due to his alleged past in drug trafficking,” the report said. Nikhil was then detained by the Czech authorities.

ALSO READ: What Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Pannun’s failed murder attempt means for India-US ties?

Later, the authorities informed the Indian embassy in Prague about one Nick Gupta, an Indian national who had been detained on the basis of a US court order.

According to the report, the Indian embassy was unaware of the antecedents of Gupta at that time. Therefore, the embassy followed procedures related to consular assistance for any Indian national. They got Gupta’s passport details for authentication of his identity and nationality. This is a routine process.

While the Indian embassy verified Gupta’s nationality, the Czech authorities remained tight-lipped throughout the time about the offences that Gupta was being investigated for.

As the probe was underway, Gupta did not seek any legal assistance from the Indian embassy – which is usually the case for Indian nationals overseas. He reportedly arranged for his own legal counsel in Prague to represent him before the Czech criminal justice system.

Later in October this year, one of the topmost intelligence official in the US government, came to India with information that was going to be part of the US indictment that federal prosecutors were preparing.

The documentation and the details “made the Indian government sit up and look at the information closely. It took them a few weeks to assess the information, which had some damning evidence, and they decided to investigate”, the report said.

These details have now been made public as part of the indictment filed by the US Department of Justice.

The report said the information and evidence were “solid enough” for the Czech authorities to transfer Gupta to US jurisdiction. The Indian national was then handed over to the FBI.

Meanwhile, the Indian government conveyed to the US officials that it was going to investigate the information provided to them. The Indian government then agreed to set up the high-level probe panel on November 18 to look into all the aspects.

Gupta was charged with with murder-for-hire. However, the senior Indian official was not charged or identified by name in the court filing, which described him as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in security management and intelligence.

The plot, which was foiled by US officials who set up a sting, emerged just days after the killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and was meant to precede a string of other politically-motivated killings in the US and Canada, according to the indictment.

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Updated: 02 Dec 2023, 04:48 PM IST

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