US withholding evidence from attorneys for Indian linked to NY murder plot
The US has refused to produce evidence against an Indian man who has been detained for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh activist based in New York.
In a court order issued on January 8, a district judge directed the US administration to begin providing discovery material to defense attorneys for Nikhil Gupta, who was arrested in the Czech Republic last year and is facing extradition. However, the US has refused to produce such material, according to Indian media reports, stating instead that it would provide the information only upon his appearance before a court in New York.
Gupta, 52, has been accused by US prosecutors of participating in a conspiracy to assassinate Pannun, who heads the pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which wants a separate nation-state for India’s Sikh minority and is designated as a terrorist organization by New Delhi.
On January 4, Gupta’s attorney filed a motion in the US District Court, urging it to direct the federal government to provide materials to justify the charges against Gupta, according to The Hindu. The attorney claimed that the Indian national had not visited the US since 2017.
The motion also noted that Gupta’s family had told the media that they did not have access to him, that he was not being allowed consular access, and is facing “basic human rights violations” in Prague. Jeff Chabrowe, Gupta’s counsel in New York, claimed that his client had been interviewed by senior US agents “on several occasions.” He said the defense counsel in Prague had no evidence or case materials other than the “bare [US] indictment.”
On January 8, Victor Marrero, a US district judge, gave the US government three days to respond to the motion. A government attorney, however, opposed the motion, insisting that case materials would be produced “promptly” once Gupta reaches the US for his arraignment.
Last month, Gupta’s family claimed that he had been starved for 11 days and forced to eat beef and pork, despite informing officials that he is a vegetarian, according to a plea filed in India’s Supreme Court. The plea argued that Gupta’s arrest had been a case of “mistaken identity,” and urged the court to direct the Indian government to intervene in his extradition proceedings. However, the court rejected the plea, citing the matter’s sensitivity.
In November, the US Department of Justice alleged that an Indian government official was behind an attempt to orchestrate Pannun’s assassination, working with Gupta and others. Shortly after the indictment, New Delhi formed a committee to look into “all the relevant aspects” of the US case. FBI Director Christopher Wray then flew to New Delhi and discussed the matter with top Indian officials.
The US indictment also mentioned the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Khalistan activist in Canada, who was gunned down by unknown assailants near Vancouver. In September last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed his government had “credible intelligence” linking Indian agents to the murder. New Delhi angrily denied these claims and asked Ottawa for proof.