Image Source : AP Khalistani Gurupatwant Singh Pannun

New Delhi: The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday clarified that it did not receive a formal request for consular access for Indian national Nikhil Gupta, who was extradited to the US last week. Notably, 53-year-old Gupta is facing charges of a murder-for-hire plot against Khalistani leader Gurupatwant Singh Pannun on American soil. He was arrested by Czech Republic authorities but was later extradited to the US. 

Randhir Jaiswal, MEA spokesperson, addressing a weekly press briefing on Friday, said that the family of Gupta has been in touch with the Indian government and added it is looking at the matter.

“He (Nikhil Gupta) was extradited to the United States on 14 June. We have not received any request for consular access from Nikhil Gupta. But his family has got in touch with us. And we are looking at the matter as to what can be done on their request,” Jaiswal said.

Foreign government officials have the right to communicate with their citizens in foreign jails and prisons to ensure their well-being, offer consular assistance, facilitate contact with family members, ensure access to legal representation and medical care, and provide reading materials. This process is known as consular access.

“Extradition of the defendant is a vital step towards justice”

Gupta was produced before a federal court in New York on Monday, where he pleaded not guilty. He is charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each charge.

 Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said this murder-for-hire plot, allegedly orchestrated by an Indian government employee to kill a US citizen in New York City, was a brazen attempt to silence a political activist for exercising a quintessential American right — his freedom of speech.

“The extradition of the defendant is a vital step towards justice,” she said. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency will not tolerate attempts by foreign nationals or anyone else to repress constitutionally protected freedoms in the United States. “We will continue to work with our partners at home and abroad to protect our citizens and these sacred rights,” he said.

CC-1 allegedly worked together with Gupta

According to court documents, last year, an Indian government employee (CC-1) allegedly worked together with Gupta and others in India and elsewhere to direct an assassination plot against an attorney and “political activist”, who is a US citizen of Indian origin, on US soil. Gupta is an Indian national who resides in India, is an associate of CC-1, and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others, a media release said.

CC-1 is an Indian government agency employee who has variously described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence” and has referenced previously serving in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and receiving “officer training” in “battle craft” and “weapons”. CC-1 directed the assassination plot from India, it added. Federal prosecutors alleged that CC-1 recruited Gupta in May 2023 to orchestrate the assassination in the US.

Pannun is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a US-based organisation that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state that is home to a large population of Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India, the federal prosecutors said.

What US court says

They alleged that on CC-1’s direction, Gupta contacted an individual whom he believed to be a criminal associate but he was in fact a confidential source working with the DEA (the CS) for assistance in contracting a hitman to murder the victim in New York City. “The CS introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was in fact a DEA undercover officer (the UC). CC-1 subsequently agreed, in dealings brokered by Gupta, to pay the UC USD 1,00,000 to murder the victim.

On or about June 9, 2023, CC-1 and Gupta arranged for an associate to deliver USD 15,000 in cash to the UC as an advance payment for the murder. CC-1’s associate then delivered the USD 15,000 to the UC in Manhattan,” they said.

In June 2023, in furtherance of the assassination plot, CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information about the victim, including the victim’s home address, phone numbers associated with the victim and details about the victim’s day-to-day conduct, which Gupta then passed on to the UC, they added. CC-1 directed Gupta to provide regular updates on the progress of the assassination plot, which Gupta accomplished by allegedly forwarding to CC-1, among other things, surveillance photographs of the victim.

“Murder as soon as possible”

“Gupta directed the UC to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but Gupta also specifically instructed the UC not to commit the murder around the time of anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level US and Indian government officials,” the prosecutors said. According to the prosecutors, after Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed outside a gurdwara in Canada on June 18, 2023, Gupta allegedly told the UC that he “was also the target” and “we have so many targets”.

Around June 20, 2023, CC-1 sent Gupta a news article about the victim and messaged him “(i)t’s (a) priority now”, the prosecutors alleged. India has publicly said a high-level inquiry is looking into the evidence shared by the US in the alleged plot to kill Pannun.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Indian national pleads not guilty in murder plot, US Court says will not tolerate attempts to harm its citizen