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‘A matter of concern’: India on Pannun plot indictment


India on Thursday described a case filed in a US court against an Indian national for his alleged involvement in a plot to kill a Khalistani leader on American soil as a “matter of concern”, and said follow-up action will be taken on the findings of an inquiry committee looking into the matter.

Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun(AP)

US prosecutors have alleged that Nikhil Gupta, alias Nick, worked on the directions of an Indian government employee, who described himself as a “senior field officer” responsible for intelligence, to arrange the assassination of US-Canadian citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a senior leader of the outlawed Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) who has been declared a terrorist by India.

Also read: SFJ’s Gurpatwant Singh Pannun reacts to alleged plot to kill him, puts onus on US for protection

While the indictment filed in a US federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday did not name the Indian official (it referred to him as CC-1) or the victim of the assassination plot, unnamed American officials have told the media that Pannun was the target. A recent report in Financial Times said that US authorities thwarted a plot to kill Pannun and issued a warning to the Indian side.

“As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a US court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said, and let me reiterate, that this is also contrary to government policy,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a media briefing.

Without referring to Pannun or giving further details, Bagchi said the US side had shared “some inputs pertaining to [a] nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists [and] other extremists”.

He added, “We take, of course, such inputs very seriously, and a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter. And necessary follow-up action will be taken based on the findings of the inquiry committee.”

The indictment filed against Gupta in the US court alleges that the Indian official had described the plot to target Pannun as a “priority” two days after another Khalistani leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was gunned down near a gurdwara in the Canadian town of Surrey on June 18. Gupta, who was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the US in June, was allegedly working with the Indian official to ensure the dismissal of a criminal case against him in India.

The indictment referred to the Indian government employee as having served in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and having received training in “battle craft” and “weapons”.

A US justice department statement said that, on the Indian official’s direction, Gupta allegedly contacted an individual for the alleged plot who turned out to be a confidential source working with US law enforcement. The source then introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was in reality an undercover US law enforcement officer (UC), the indictment said.

Referring to the Indian official as “CC-1”, the statement said: “CC-1 subsequently agreed in dealings brokered by Gupta to pay the UC $100,000 to murder the victim. On or about June 9, CC-1 and Gupta arranged for an associate to deliver $15,000 in cash to the UC as an advance payment for the murder. CC-1’s associate then delivered the $15,000 to the UC in Manhattan.” The indictment attached a photograph of the alleged transfer.

Bagchi said the US had shared the inputs during discussions on bilateral security cooperation. He declined to share further information, such as the specifics of the inputs, on the grounds of security.

“The nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gun running and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for law enforcement agencies and organisations to consider, and it is precisely for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted, and we will obviously be guided by its results,” Bagchi said.

The White House declined to directly comment on the charges against Gupta, but stressed administration officials acted quickly. “When we were made aware of the fact that [Gupta] 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,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

However, Bagchi again dismissed allegations made by Canada regarding the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the killing of Nijjar, and said the “heart of the issue” is the Canadian side giving space to anti-India extremists.

Also read: NIA seizes assets of Khalistani extremist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in Punjab

About two months before the emergence of media reports about the alleged plot to kill Pannun, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau triggered a diplomatic storm with his accusation of a link between Indian agents and the slaying of Nijjar. India and Canada both expelled a senior official each and New Delhi’s insistence on parity in diplomatic presence forced the Canadian side to withdraw 41 diplomats from the country.

“Insofar as Canada is concerned, we have said that they have consistently given space to anti-India extremists and violence, and that is actually the heart of the issue,” Bagchi said.

Indian diplomats in Canada have borne the brunt of this and New Delhi expects the Canadian government to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, he said. “We have also seen interference by Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs… and that is obviously unacceptable,” he added.



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