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Pannun case: US judge denies request for defence materials by Indian national Nikhil Gupta

The US government had objected to sending proof of charges on Nikhil Gupta's request till he appears in a New York court. US Distric Judge Victor Marrero said the court was persuaded by the government’s argument that Gupta has no right to discovery at this time.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New York Published on: January 12, 2024 13:39 IST
United states, Pannun foiled murder case, Nikhil Gupta
Image Source : AP India-designated Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

New York: A US judge on Thursday denied a request for defence materials by Nikhil Gupta, the Indian national who is currently detained in a prison in the Czech Republic over a foiled assassination attempt on designated Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. This came after federal prosecutors in the US objected to sending proof of charges against Gupta till he makes an appearance in a New York coirt.

United States District Judge Victor Marrero, in an order on Thursday, denied a motion filed by Gupta’s attorney seeking discovery material in the case. Marrero said that the Court is persuaded by the government’s argument that Gupta has no right to discovery at this time, citing Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16.1, which says that no later than 14 days after the arraignment, “the attorney for the government and the defendant’s attorney must confer and try to agree on a timetable and procedures for pretrial disclosure under Rule 16”.

The district judge further said Gupta has failed to identify any authority suggesting that a defendant has a right to discovery before arraignment. “Gupta has not yet been arraigned in this case, and the government is currently seeking Gupta’s extradition from the Czech Republic to the United States,” he said.

The 52-year-old Gupta was charged by federal prosecutors after he was indicted in November last year on charges of working with an Indian government employee in a foiled plot to kill Pannun, who holds dual US and Canadian citizenships, on American soil. Gupta was arrested in Prague, the Czech Republic on June 30, 2023, and the US government is seeking his extradition to America.

What did prosecutors say?

Gupta’s attorney in New York Jeff Chabrowe filed a ‘Motion to Compel Production of Discovery’ on January 4 in the US District Court of Southern District of New York seeking to direct federal prosecutors to provide “the defence materials relevant to its ability to defend the instant charges".

In its reply to Marrero's order to respond to Gupta, the US government on Wednesday said Gupta’s motion asking for discovery material should be denied. "The government respectfully submits this letter in opposition to defendant Nikhil Gupta’s motion to compel discovery during the pendency of his extradition proceedings in the Czech Republic,” said federal prosecutors.

They said that consistent with federal rules of criminal procedure, “the government is prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance in this District and arraignment on this case. Before then, however, the defendant is not entitled to discovery, and he identifies no good reason for the Court to order it".

Sufficient with the response, Marrero said the government has assured the Court that it is “prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance in this District" and arraignment on this case.“Accordingly, Gupta’s motion is denied,” his order read.

Nikhil Gupta's defence

Gupta’s counsel in New York Jeff Chabrowe has said in his motion that the attorney representing Gupta in Prague in his extradition proceedings states that “no evidence or documentation of any sort has been given to him other than the US indictment itself". He said Gupta has been interviewed in Prague “by groups of senior US agents on several occasions and continues to be interviewed".

"The defence counsel present in Prague has no evidence or other case materials, other than the bare indictment. Most critically, the defendant continues (to be) interrogated by US officials, after the indictment, where his uninformed counsel has no ability to secure his rights. Accordingly, this Court should order the government to comply with the defence discovery request here,” the motion filed by Chabrowe said.

Gupta's motion also said a municipal court in Prague has initially recommended extradition, "but several layers of judicial review remain before any final extradition order issues". The counsel claimed that US Attorney for the Southern District refuses to begin providing discovery for Gupta.

Meanwhile, the government has rejected Gupta’s assertion that he has been subjected to repeated interrogations by US officials without the presence of the counsel. "In fact, he has met only twice with US law enforcement authorities, the second time in the presence of counsel, and on both occasions, he was advised of his rights, In the first meeting, immediately after his arrest, the defendant waived his rights verbally and spoke with law enforcement agents," said the government's motion.

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | Pannun case: US objects to sending proof requested by Nikhil Gupta till he appears in New York court

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