U.S. indictment accuses Indian intelligence official of ‘masterminding plot’ to kill Pannun: 10 points

The indictment suggests a link between the alleged plot targeting Pannun and the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar

November 30, 2023 04:05 pm | Updated 07:42 pm IST

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. | Photo Credit: AP

Just after the U.S. Department of Justice publicly released an indictment alleging an Indian plot targeting Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-based Khalistani activist wanted on terror charges, India set up a “high-level” enquiry committee to look into the allegations.

Calling the allegations a “matter of concern”, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that the purported links between the indicted individual and the Indian government official in the U.S. Department of Justice filings are not the “Indian government policy”.

The indictment accused a senior Indian intelligence official of masterminding the plot to assassinate Pannun. It also accused the official of enlisting an individual named Nikhil Gupta who would then hire a hit man. The indictment suggests that all criminal charges against Gupta were dropped at the behest of the Indian intelligence official. It also suggests a link between the alleged plot targeting Pannun and the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, which Canada has accused the Indian government agents of masterminding. The MEA has called the allegations “absurd”.

Here is a 10-point list of what the Grand Jury indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney Southern District of New York says:

1. The indictment, a determination made by a jury of ordinary citizens has found enough evidence to prosecute an Indian man named Nikhil Gupta, who was arrested in the Czech Republic, and accused of working with an Indian government official on a plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Khalistani Separatist and lawyer in New York 

2. Documents detail communication between the official, CC-1, who is identified but not named, as a Senior Field Officer involved in Security and Intelligence, who earlier served in the Central Reserve Police Force, with Nikhil Gupta, who said he is involved in international narcotics and weapons trafficking, beginning May 2023. 

3. CC-1 accessed emails from New Delhi area and contacted Gupta from an Indian phone to organise the hit. CC-1 told Gupta that he has spoken to his “boss” and criminal charges against Gupta by Gujarat police have been dropped. 

4. Gupta contacted a man, who was actually working for U.S. Law enforcement as a confidential source (referred to as CS), and through him a hitman, who was an undercover officer (called UC), and offered him $100,000 (approximately ₹83 lakh) to murder Pannun in New York. Gupta furnished CS Pannun’s whereabouts, residence and office details, and told CS that he could lure Pannun to a place by pretending to need legal advice and kill him. He also organized a $15,000 payment to the UC. 

5. Gupta told CS to follow Pannun, “finish him” quickly, and suggested the date of June 10 weekend. However, later CC-1 said they should “calm down everything”, as PM Narendra Modi was visiting New York and Washington June 20-24, during which an assassination of Pannun could lead to “political” issues. 

6. Gupta also held a video conference with the UC, meant to be the hitman, showing 3 men in business suits, and suggesting that they were all part of the assassination plot. The CS and UC were promised many more murder contracts, about “2-3 jobs per month” 

7. According to the indictment, Gupta also claimed Indian officials wanted a hit job in Canada, telling him on June 16 that the killing was being taken care of, indicating possibly the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18. CC-1 shared a video of the killing with Gupta, telling him not to “get involved” himself in the killing. Later, Gupta told the CS and UC that Nijjar had been killed, and they could proceed with the Pannun murder contract, even authorising them to kill others who may be sitting with Pannun. On June 20, Gupta said killing Pannun was a “priority”, and pointed to 3 other targets in Canada. 

8. CS and UC sent Gupta surveillance photographs on June 24-25, and after sharing them with CC-1, suggested the hit could be carried out on June 26 at either the office or house, or a café Pannun frequented. 

9. Gupta travelled from India to the Czech Republic and was arrested on June 30. U.S. authorities have attached all of Gupta’s property and any cash proceeds in the U.S. 

10. While the indictment doesn’t mention it, a Washington Post article says the allegations were shared by U.S. President Joseph Biden, who met PM Narendra Modi in June in Washington and in September in Delhi, by U.S. NSA Jake Sullivan with NSA Ajit Doval, possibly during a meeting in August in Saudi Arabia, by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who met EAM S. Jaishankar in Washington twice and Delhi twice since June, and by CIA Director Bill Burns and Director National Intelligence Avrille Haines who visited Delhi. Earlier, Canada had also said they had sent Canadian NSA Jody Thomas who had requested cooperation on the allegations during two of his visits to Delhi. 

Who are the men identified in the plot, according to the indictment: 

CC-1: Indian government official believed to be a Senior Field Intelligence Officer 

Nikhil Gupta: Indian man wanted on criminal charges, self-described as gun-runner and drug supplier, who had been investigated by Gujarat police 

CS: Confidential Source or informant for U.S. law enforcement, involved in organising killings 

UC: Under Cover U.S. Law enforcement official who pretended to be the hit-man who would carry out the killing, conducted surveillance 

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