US Attorney indicts 'Indian government employee' in plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannu in New York City
The United States Attorney has unveiled charges against Indian national Nikhil Gupta and an alleged Indian government employee in connection with a foiled assassination plot against Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, founder of Sikhs for Justice, in New York City. Gupta faces charges of murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, each carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years
In a shocking revelation, an individual identified as an 'Indian government employee' has been implicated in a thwarted conspiracy to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, the founder of the banned Sikhs for Justice organization, in New York City. The United States Attorney has unsealed charges against 52-year-old Indian national Nikhil Gupta in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, including murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, each carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The court documents outline the intricate details of the conspiracy, indicating the involvement of an Indian government employee working in collaboration with Gupta and others in India. This government employee, described as a 'Senior Field Officer' with a background in 'Security Management' and 'Intelligence', allegedly directed the assassination plot from India.
The indictment terms Pannu as the victim, a US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City, is an outspoken critic of the Indian government, leading an organization advocating for the secession of Punjab and the establishment of Khalistan. The indictment highlights that Gupta, residing in India and associated with an Indian government employee, was recruited to coordinate the assassination plot.
The Conspiracy Claim
According to the court documents, the Indian government employee directed Gupta to contact a presumed criminal associate for help in hiring a hitman to murder the victim in New York City. Unbeknownst to Gupta, the so-called criminal associate was, in fact, a confidential source working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The source introduced Gupta to an undercover DEA officer posing as a hitman.
The Indian government employee allegedly agreed to pay the undercover officer $100,000 for the murder, with an initial $15,000 delivered as an advance payment by an associate of the government employee in Manhattan on June 9, 2023. Gupta, at the direction of the Indian government employee, provided personal information about Pannu, including his home address, phone numbers, and daily routines.
As the conspiracy unfolded, Gupta reportedly forwarded surveillance photographs of the victim to the Indian government employee, keeping them updated on the progress, the documents said, adding that Gupta instructed the undercover agent to expedite the murder but also advised against committing the act during anticipated engagements between high-level US and Indian government officials.
On June 18, 2023, masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an associate of the victim, outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada. Nijjar, a leader of the Sikh separatist movement, was also a vocal critic of the Indian government. Gupta allegedly informed the undercover officer the next day that Nijjar 'was also the target' and mentioned 'we have so many targets.' Following Nijjar's murder, Gupta reportedly urged the undercover officer not to wait any longer and to proceed with the assassination.
'The plot in this case was all too real'
The gravity of the situation prompted Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to state, 'As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India.' Williams expressed gratitude for the efforts of law enforcement partners in neutralizing the threat and emphasized the commitment to investigate and prosecute those seeking to harm US citizens.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew M Olsen emphasized the Department of Justice's determination to hold accountable those plotting lethal actions from overseas, commending the dedicated law enforcement agents and prosecutors involved in exposing the dangerous conspiracy. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram praised the work of the DEA New York Field Division, the prosecution team at the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, and federal and global law enforcement partners for their assistance in stopping the alleged plot. FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith highlighted the grim reality of the case, stating, 'Murder for hire is a crime out of a movie, but the plot in this case was all too real.' Smith credited the excellent teamwork of law enforcement partners for uncovering the brazen conspiracy and leading to the charges against Nikhil Gupta.