Pannun Murder Plot: US Objects To Sharing Proof On Charges Against Nikhil Gupta

The US authorities stipulate that they will provide the requested information only upon Nikhil Gupta's appearance in a New York court and arraignment in the case.

Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun

The United States government has raised objections to furnishing defence materials for Indian national Nikhil Gupta, currently detained in a Czech prison on murder-for-hire charges related to a thwarted assassination attempt on Khalistani extremist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

The US authorities stipulate that they will provide the requested information only upon Gupta's appearance in a New York court and arraignment in the case.

Nikhil Gupta is being subjected to human rights violations, including extended solitary confinement, while in custody in the Czech Republic, his lawyer has said in court documents.

Gupta, aged 52, faces charges filed by federal prosecutors in an indictment unsealed in November of last year. The charges allege his involvement in a plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Khalistani separatist holding dual US and Canadian citizenships, on American soil. Gupta was apprehended in Prague, Czech Republic, on June 30, 2023, and is currently in custody there, with the US government seeking his extradition.

On January 4, Gupta's attorney filed a 'Motion to Compel Production of Discovery' in the US District Court, Southern District of New York, urging the court to direct federal prosecutors to provide defense materials pertinent to the charges. US District Judge Victor Marrero gave the government until January 8 to respond to the motion.

In its response filed on Wednesday, the government argued against Gupta's motion, stating, "The government is prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance in this District and arraignment on this case. Before then, however, the defendant is not entitled to discovery, and he identifies no good reason for the Court to order it."

US Attorney Damian Williams emphasized in the government's response that Gupta has not established a legal entitlement or justification for discovery at this stage. Williams affirmed the government's readiness to provide discovery promptly upon Gupta's appearance and arraignment in the Southern District of New York, concluding that "his motion to compel discovery should be denied."

Gupta's New York counsel, Jeff Chabrowe, argued in the motion that Gupta's attorney in Prague, handling his extradition proceedings, has received no evidence or documentation beyond the US indictment itself. Chabrowe asserted that Gupta continues to be interviewed by US officials in Prague without the presence of his criminal case counsel. The motion called for the government to comply with the defense's discovery request.

Gupta's motion highlighted that a municipal court in Prague has initially recommended extradition, with further judicial reviews pending. Chabrowe requested discovery from the US Attorney's office during this interim period, but the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to provide it.

According to an AP report, the government, in its response, refuted Gupta's claim of repeated interrogations without legal representation, stating that he has met with US law enforcement authorities only twice. The second meeting, occurring in the presence of counsel in the Czech Republic, concluded when Gupta declined to be interviewed.

The US government notes in its reply that the 15-page superseding indictment contains the charges as well as additional factual details concerning the murder-for-hire plot and Gupta’s actions in furtherance of that plot.

As described in the superseding indictment, to facilitate the murder, Gupta arranged for an associate to make an initial USD 15,000 payment in cash to a US law enforcement undercover officer in Manhattan. 

Over the course of several weeks, Gupta regularly discussed the alleged plot with the undercover officer and with a US law enforcement confidential source, whom Gupta believed to be a criminal associate, “including on video calls in which the defendant personally appeared.”

India has already formed a probe committee to investigate the allegations surrounding the case.