New Delhi, Nov 30 (EFE).- An Indian government employee schemed to assassinate a prominent Sikh leader in the United States in a foiled murder-for-hire plot, the US Justice Department said on Thursday, announcing charges against an Indian-origin drug trafficker contracted to execute the plan.
The Justice Department did not file charges against the accused Indian government employee, identifying him as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence.”
“The defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a Justice Department press statement.
Sikhs are an ethno-religious minority group in India and have for decades demanded a separate homeland carved out of the northern Indian state of Punjab, where they live in majority.
The Indian official worked “together with others,” including “an international narcotics trafficker,” Nikhil Gupta, 52, “to murder a US citizen on US soil,” the department said.
“(They) directed a plot to assassinate on US soil an attorney and political activist who is a US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City,” the department said, referring to Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, but identifying him in court as “victim.”
India accuses Pannun of fomenting Sikh separatism and plotting terror activities in India.
The department said Gupta resides in India and is an associate of the accused Indian government employee.
“(Gupta) has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with (the Indian official) and others,” the department said.
According to the indictment, the accused got in touch with a criminal associate to hire a hitman for the person.
But that person happened to be a US Drug Enforcement Agency source. The source introduced Gupta to a supposed hitman, who happened to be a DEA agent.
The indictment said the Indian government employee gave Gupta the home address of Pannun, his phone numbers, and details about his day-to-day conduct
Gupta forwarded surveillance photographs of Pannun that he had obtained from the DEA agent posing as the hired hitman.
Gupta was detained by Czech authorities on June 30 at the request of the US, under the bilateral extradition treaty between the two countries.
Williams said his office and US law enforcement agencies “neutralized this deadly and outrageous threat.”
“We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on US soil and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad.”
The plot draws startling similarities with the alleged complicity of Indian government agents in the murder of another Sikh separatist leader in Canada in June.
In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his parliament that he had credible allegations that the Indian government had plotted the execution of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, also of Indian origin.
Trudeau’s allegations came days after India hosted leaders of G20 wealthy nations, including US President Joe Biden.
According to the US indictment, Gupta forwarded the undercover DEA agent “a video clip showing Nijjar’s bloody body slumped in his vehicle” the day after his killing outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada.