DOJ says Indian government employee directed murder plot in New York – USA TODAY

An Indian official working under orders from an Indian government agent, tried to hire a hit-man to murder the American leader of a minority separatist movement on U.S. soil, the Justice Department charged Wednesday.
The allegations come months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked a diplomatic crisis by alleging Indian involvement in the June 18 murder of Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Federal prosecutors in New York say Nikhil Gupta, 52, was arrested in late June under an extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
Both Nijjar in Canada and the would-be U.S. victim were prominent in the Sikh separatist movement, which seeks an independent homeland for the Indian religious minority. The New York Times, citing American officials, identified the target as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, general counsel for the New York-based Sikhs for Justice.
The Indian government has vigorously denied a role in the Nijjar murder, blaming his death on factional violence within the Sikh separatist movement. Thousands of people were killed in India during the 1980s and ’90s in fighting between Sikh separatists and government forces.
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The explosive allegations come as President Joe Biden works to strengthen ties with New Delhi. In June, as the alleged conspiracy was unfolding, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a state visit to Washington, D.C., where he and 1,000 guests practiced yoga on the White House lawn.
An Indian official said the country has set up an inquiry into the alleged plot after U.S. authorities raised concerns. India takes the allegations “seriously since they impinge on our national security interests as well,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.
In an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, prosecutors say that an unnamed Indian government employee − who has described himself as a senior field officer with security and intelligence responsibilities − worked “with others in India and elsewhere” in a plot “to assassinate, on U.S. soil, an attorney and political activist, who is a U.S. citizen of Indian origin.”
The intended victim “is a vocal critic of the Indian government,” the indictment said.
Under the direction of the Indian employee, Gupta allegedly sought help in finding an assassin from an intermediary who was, unknown to Gupta, a confidential source working with U.S. law enforcement.
The informant introduced Gupta to a purported killer-for-hire who was really an undercover officer. In dealings brokered by Gupta, the government employee agreed to pay $100,000 for the murder, the Justice Department said, and Gupta had an associate make a $15,000 down payment in Manhattan.
Gupta allegedly told the undercover officer soon after Nijjar’s murder that the Canadian citizen, who was gunned down outside a Sikh house of worship in western Canada, had also been a target − and that there was “now no need to wait” in striking the American victim.
He warned the assassin to avoid committing the murder while high-level meetings between U.S. and Indian officials were ongoing, but demanded it take place as soon as possible, the Justice Department said.
Gupta also warned the purported hitman that, in the wake of Nijjar’s murder, the American target “will be more cautious” and shouldn’t be given “any chance,” prosecutors said.
“If he is not alone, [if] there are two guys with him in the meeting or something . . . put everyone down, put everyone down,” Gupta allegedly said.
Gupta also told the confidential source that he had “four jobs” to be to be completed by June 29th, including three in Canada, the indictment said. A lawyer for Gupta couldn’t be reached for comment.
The case was investigated by agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division.

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