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'Matter of concern': MEA after US indicts 'individual with links to Indian official' in failed murder plot

Earlier, reports claimed that the US thwarted a plan for the assassination of Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and warned India over concerns that it was involved in the plot. The 52-year-old Indian national Nikhil Gupta has been arrested and charged with murder-for-hire.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New Delhi Updated on: November 30, 2023 13:28 IST
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on
Image Source : MEA/YOUTUBE Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on Thursday.

India on Thursday said that the individual, who has been indicted in the United States for the failed assassination plot of a Khalistani leader in New York, has been linked to an Indian official, which is "a matter of concern" and asserted that this was against the policy of the Indian government.

"As regards the legal case against an individual that has been filed in a US court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said that this is also contrary to government policy," said Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

Reiterating India's stance and the constitution of a high-level committee to probe US inputs, Bagchi further said, "The nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gunrunning and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for the law enforcement agencies and organisations to consider and it is for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will be guided by its results."

What is the case?

The case pertains to earlier reports that claimed that the US thwarted a plan aimed towards the assassination of Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and warned India over concerns that it was involved in the plot.

US federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged an Indian national, identified as 52-year-old Nikhil Gupta, for his alleged involvement in a failed murder plot against Pannun on American soil. Gupta has been charged with murder-on-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Matthew G Olsen.

"As alleged, 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, an ethnoreligious minority group in India," US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a statement.

According to the US Department of Justice, Gupta is an Indian national and was an associate of CC-1, who hired Gupta to carry out the task. Not much is known yet about him, except that he was arrested and detained by Czech authorities on June 30 this year "pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic".

Gupta allegedly described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others. He was recruited by CC-1 to orchestrate the assassination of the 'victim', who has publicly called for all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, said the DoJ.

According to the DoJ, Gupta contacted an individual whom he believed to be a criminal associate but was actually a confidential source working with US law enforcement (the CS), for assistance in contracting a hitman to murdering the victim in New York. The undercover agent introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was also an undercover US law enforcement officer.

Gupta agreed to pay the 'hitman' a sum of $100,000 to murder the victim. On June 30, when CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information and details about the victim, the latter directed the undercover officer to murder him but also instructed the officer to not commit the murder "around the time of anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level US and Indian government officials".

India set up a high-level committee

The development came after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Wednesday said that it has constituted a high-level enquiry committee to look into all relevant aspects regarding the concerns shared by the United States on the nexus between organised criminals, terrorists, gun runners and others. 

"In this context, it is informed that on 18 November 2023, the Government of India constituted a high-level enquiry committee to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter," said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, adding that the Indian government will take 'necessary follow-up action' based on the findings of the committee.

Bagchi further said that the US shared those inputs on the criminal nexus during discussions on bilateral security cooperation and said that "India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on our national security interests". 

(with agency inputs)

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