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Pannun Murder Plot Accused Nikhil Gupta Extradited to US from Czech Republic

Czech authorities have confirmed the extradition, which they said took place on June 14.
A screengrab from a video released on June 18 by Czech police, of the extradition of Nikhil Gupta to the US last week.

New Delhi: Almost one year after he arrived at the Prague airport, Indian national Nikhil Gupta, who the United States suspects of involvement in a conspiracy to murder a Sikh lawyer, was extradited to the US from the Czech Republic on Friday.

The extradition was carried out on Friday (June 14) at Prague-Ruzyně Airport, Vladimir Repka, spokesperson of the ministry of justice of the Czech Republic said.

Reuters had reported on the extradition earlier on June 17, citing the US’s federal Bureau of Prisons website and a source familiar with the matter.

In late May, The Wire had reported how the Czech Constitutional Court had dismissed Gupta’s petition to stop his extradition to the US, rejecting his claim that the charges against him were political in nature.

Gupta is understood to be accused of playing a vital role alongside an Indian government official to kill Khalistan activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Pannun is associated with Sikhs for Justice, a Khalistani group proscribed as a terror group by India.

Pannun told Reuters that he saw the extradition as a welcome step, but that “Nikhil Gupta is just a foot soldier”.

“He alleged that those who hired Gupta were senior members of the Indian government who act on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the Reuters report said.

Jeffrey Chabrowe, Gupta’s lawyer in the US, told The Wire that the extradition was a “complex matter for both our countries [the US and India]” and that it was “extremely important” to refrain from “rushing to conclusions so early in the process”.

“Background and details will develop that may cast government allegations into an entirely new light. We will pursue his defense vigorously and ensure he receives full due process regardless of outside pressures,” Chabrowe added.

Gupta is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, a federal administrative detention facility, The Wire has confirmed on the Bureau of Prisons website.

The full statement by the Czech authorities says:

“After the final and binding decision of the Municipal Court in Prague dated November 23, 2023, in conjunction with the decision of the High Court in Prague dated January 8, 2024, regarding the admissibility of the extradition of Nikhil Gupta for criminal prosecution to the United States of America, the Minister of Justice of the Czech Republic authorized the extradition of Nikhil Gupta to the United States of America by a decision dated June 3, 2024. The extradition to the USA was authorized for criminal prosecution on suspicion of committing the crime of conspiracy to commit a murder for hire with the intent to cause death, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, § 1958(a), and the crime of murder for hire with the intent to cause death, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, § 1958(a).”

A screengrab from a video released on June 18 by Czech police, of the extradition of Nikhil Gupta to the US last week.

The Czech Police released a 30-second video which shows a handcuffed Gupta being held on both sides by US law enforcement officials, with one wearing the jacket of New York Police Department. He is escorted by the US officials, as well gun-totting Czech police commandos, across the tarmac to a waiting plane. All the faces were blurred in the video.

A search for the ID of the plane showed that it was private charter, which is a preferred mode for extradition by US authorities.

As per available flight records, the privately-owned plane flew from Portugal’s Lajes air base and landed in Prague’s Vaclav Havel airport at 9.55 p.m. local time on June 13. The aircraft, along with Gupta, then flew to Shannon airport in Ireland. The Irish airport is known to have a United States border pre-clearance facility, which allows immigration process to be completed before travel across the Atlantic.

After about an hour in Shannon, the aircraft then flew six hours and forty-four-minutes to arrive at JFK international airport at 4.56 pm, local time, on June 14.

A screengrab from a video released on June 18 by Czech police, of the extradition of Nikhil Gupta to the US last week.

Gupta appeared before US Magistrate Judge James L. Cott on June 17, with defense attorney by his side. He pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and was “detained on consent without prejudice”.

In a press release on Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued statements from US attorney general Merrick B. Garland and other senior officials vowing to ensure accountability for the murder attempt, with repeated references to the unnamed Indian government official.

“This extradition makes clear that the Justice Department will not tolerate attempts to silence or harm American citizens,” said Garland.

He continued: “Nikhil Gupta will now face justice in an American courtroom for his involvement in an alleged plot, directed by an employee of the Indian government, to target and assassinate a US citizen for his support of the Sikh separatist movement in India. I am grateful to the Department’s agents who foiled this assassination plot and to our Czech partners for their assistance in this arrest and extradition”.

The FBI’s director Christopher Wray asserted that his organisation will “not tolerate attempts by foreign nationals, or anyone else for that matter, to repress constitutionally-protected freedoms in the United States”.

The DOJ press note recalled that the Indian government official, tagged as ‘CC-1’ in court documents, had described himself as a “senior field officer” who had previously worked in the Central Reserve Police Force.

US prosecutors claimed that Gupta, who was following instructions from the mastermind CC-1, had directed the ‘hitman’ to carry out the assassination early, but not around the time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the United States on a state visit.

The undercover operative, who was posing as a hitman, was a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officer.

DEA administrator Anne Milgram took credit for ‘uncovering’ the assassination plot. “This extradition is the result of the hard work and commitment of the DEA New York Division’s Drug Enforcement Task Force, which is comprised of DEA, the New York State Police and the New York City Police Department,” she said.

Gupta was arrested in June 2023 on his arrival in Prague, and US prosecutors put in an extradition request soon afterwards. His arrest was only publicly revealed by the US in November.

The Wire had first reported about Gupta’s legal process before the Czech judiciary in December last year.

The indictment had also said that Gupta was aware in advance of the plan to kill the Canadian national Hardeep Singh Nijjar – also proscribed as a Khalistani terrorist by India. Canada’s claims on Indian involvement in Nijjar’s killing has led to significant worsening of Canada-India ties.

Note: This report has been updated since publication to include confirmation from the Czech ministry of justice, details on Gupta’s journey, a statement from Chabrowe and quotes from the DOJ’s press release.

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