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

Gupta’s attorney filed a ‘Motion to Compel Production of Discovery’ on January 4 seeking to direct federal prosecutors to provide "defence materials" about the Pannun case. US District Judge Victor Marrero ordered the Biden administration to respond to a motion filed by Gupta's lawyers.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New York Published on: January 11, 2024 13:05 IST
Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Image Source : AP Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

The United States government has objected to providing proof of charges requested in a motion 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, saying that it will provide them only upon his appearance in a New York court and arraignment in the case.

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.

Gupta’s attorney 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".

US government replies to court order

US District Judge Victor Marrero ordered the Biden administration to respond to a motion filed by lawyers of Nikhil Gupta seeking material relating to charges against him. "On January 4, 2024, defence counsel filed a motion to compel production of discovery, requesting that the Court enter an order directing the Government to begin providing defence counsel with discovery material. The Court hereby directs the government to file a reply to the Motion to Compel within three days of the date of this order," said Marrero.

In its reply on Wednesday, the US government 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".

What did Gupta's lawyers say?

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.

Supreme Court on Gupta's extradition

Gupta, 52, of India has been charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Matthew G. Olsen has said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by Gupta's family requesting consular access and legal assistance to contest his indictment and potential extradition. Hearing the matter, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said the court cannot do much in the case.  “There is nothing much we can do. You are entitled to consular access under the Vienna convention, which you have already got," the bench noted. 

The bench told senior advocate CA Sundaram, appearing for the kin of Gupta, that the court should uphold the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the foreign court and the laws of that jurisdiction. Therefore, the bench stated that it cannot delve into the merits of the case. 

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | PM Modi meets Czech Republic counterpart, no discussion on arrested Indian national Nikhil Gupta

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