An Indian national is facing murder-for-hire charges in a case of what American law enforcement are calling an attempt “to assassinate a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil,” with an alleged connection to an employee of the Indian government.
The indictment, made public on Wednesday, links an alleged employee of the Indian government, identified in Department of Justice documents as CC-1, to the June 18, 2023, murder of Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first said Canada had credible intelligence that agents of the Indian government may be connected to Nijjar’s murder on September 18.
“The news coming out of the United States further underscores what we’ve been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously. The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we’re getting to the bottom of this,” Trudeau said prior to question period Wednesday.
“This is not something that anyone can take lightly.”
Nikhil “Nick” Gupta, age 52, was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of American authorities on June 30, 2023, and extradited to the United States, the documents state.
According to the indictment, Gupta was allegedly sought out by an employee of the Indian government, identified as CC-1 in the indictment, in May, 2023, to orchestrate the attempted assassination of an unnamed target. The target is described as “a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a U.S.-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India that is home to a large population of Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India.”
It’s alleged CC-1 offered to help Gupta secure the dismissal of a criminal case against him in India.
“I am grateful that my Office and our law enforcement partners neutralized this deadly and outrageous threat. We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
At CC-1’s direction, Gupta allegedly contacted an individual he believed to be a criminal associate in New York City that could help him contract a hitman, according to the indictment.
Unbeknownst to Gupta, the indictment says this person was a confidential source working for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The source introduced Gupta to a supposed hitman, who in reality was an undercover officer.
The indictment says that CC-1 allegedly agreed to dealings brokered by Gupta for the apparent hitman to assassinate the target for $100,000.
In early June, CC-1 allegedly also provided Gupta with the target’s home address in New York City, phone numbers and details of his day-to-day activities.
According to the indictment, Gupta handed this information over to the undercover officer.
It’s alleged that Gupta instructed the undercover officer not to commit the murder around the dates of high-profile dealings between the Indian and American governments.
On June 18, hours after Nijjar’s murder, it’s alleged in the indictment that CC-1 sent Gupta a video clip showing Nijjar’s body slumped in his vehicle. The next day, Gupta allegedly told the undercover officer that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have many targets.”
“I think what was filed in a U.S. court today confirms that Canada is not alone at managing these particular threats,” Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Wednesday.
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“What’s important for us is that the government of Canada and agencies like the RCMP and the intelligence service do everything that they can to protect Canadians, but also to hold accountable those that murdered a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.”
According to the indictment, CC-1 allegedly told Gupta that there was another target in California. On June 9, it’s alleged Gupta told the confidential DEA source that this assassination would lead to more “jobs” with as many as two to three a month.
Gupta allegedly then told the undercover officer that there was no more need to wait and on June 20 said Pannun sent the undercover officer a message saying “it’s a priority now.”
Ten days later, Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities.
He now faces charges of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Both carry maximum sentences of 10-years in prison.
None of these allegations have been proven in court.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that India will formally investigate security concerns aired by the United States in a warning to New Delhi about its links to a foiled plot to murder a Sikh separatist leader, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
“When we were made aware of the fact that the defendant in this case had credibly indicated that he was directed to arrange the murder by an individual who is assessed to be an employee of the Indian Government, we took this information very seriously and engaged in direct conversations with the Indian government at the highest levels to express our concern,” White House National Security Counsel spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
“The Government of India was clear with us that they were taking this seriously and would investigate. We are providing information to the Government of India to aid in their internal investigation. We will continue to expect accountability from the Government of India based on the results of their investigations.”
Speaking in Brussels, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said she still expects more cooperation with Indian officials on the RCMP investigation into Nijjar’s murder.
“We expect more cooperation on their part and more engagement on their part.”
Just a week earlier, the White House confirmed that it had warned New Delhi about its involvement in a thwarted plot to kill a Sikh separatist leader, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
Global News has reached out to the Indian high commission in Ottawa for comment.