US authorities have charged a man from India with murder-for-hire for allegedly plotting to pay $100,000 to assassinate a prominent Sikh separatist leader living in New York City.
The man, Nikhil Gupta, was arrested and detained in the Czech Republic in June. He is expected to be extradited to the United States to face the charges.
US Attorney Damian Williams announced the charges against Gupta, 52, an Indian national who had lived in India.
The charges were announced in an indictment that was unsealed in Manhattan federal court. Gupta allegedly conspired from India to assassinate a US citizen of Indian origin who had publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs.
According to the indictment, Gupta contacted an individual he believed to be a criminal associate to help find a hitman to carry out the killing.
However, the individual turned out to be a confidential source working with the DEA. The confidential source then introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, but the individual was actually a DEA agent.
India has set up a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns with New Delhi that its government may have had knowledge of the plot.
India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said that the Indian government takes such inputs seriously and that relevant departments were already examining the issue.
Pannun, the target of the alleged assassination plot, is considered a terrorist by the Indian government. He is the general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, an organization that was banned by India in 2019.
Pannun has been a leading organizer of the so-called Khalistan referendum, which is a nonbinding referendum that asks Sikhs worldwide to vote on whether India's Punjab state should become an independent nation based on religion.
The Canadian government has also expelled a top Indian diplomat after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that there were credible allegations that the Indian government may have had links to the assassination in that country of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India has denied the allegations.
The Indian government's high-level inquiry committee is expected to look into all aspects of the matter, including whether any Indian government officials were involved in the alleged assassination plot.
The committee is expected to submit its report to the Indian government within a few months.
The alleged assassination plot is the latest in a series of tensions between India the United States and Canada over the issue of Sikh separatism.
The Indian government has long accused the United States and Canada of providing support to Sikh separatist groups. The United States and Canada have denied the allegations.