Nikhil “Nick” Gupta, an Indian citizen accused in a murder-for-hire plot against Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil, pleaded not guilty on Monday, saying he has been “unfairly charged”. Gupta’s attorney Jeffrey Chabrowe entered the plea on his behalf at a Manhatta federal court..

Some of Pannun’s supporters had gathered outside the court house and one of them was seen holding a Khalistani flag. The 53-year-old, who was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30, 2023 at the request of the American government, was extradited to the US on Friday.

“On the basis of my decision on (June 3), Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta, who is suspected of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire with intent to cause death, was extradited to the US on Friday (June 14) for criminal prosecution,” Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blazek posted on X.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Gupta who will now face justice in a US courtroom for his involvement in an alleged plot, directed by an employee of the Indian government,” adding that the Justice Department will not “tolerate attempts to silence or harm American citizens”. Pannun holds dual American and Canadian citizenship.

If convicted, Gupta faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison each for charges under murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. He is currently held at the federal Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn.

The next court hearing in the case is on June 28. Court records show that a status conference has been set for June 28 before Judge Victor Marrero. 

US prosecutors have claimed that Gupta was working on the orders of an unidentified Indian government official and that he paid $15,000 advance to a hitman to kill Pannun. However, India has dismissed the allegations and has ordered a high-level probe into the claims.

The latest development comes ahead of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s visit to New Delhi for the annual ICET dialogue. Sullivan is likely to raise the issue during a meeting with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.