Indian Government Employee Directed a Plot from India to Murder U.S.-Based Leader of Sikh Separatist Movement
Today in the Southern District of New York, a superseding indictment was unsealed alleging murder-for-hire charges against Indian national Nikhil Gupta, aka Nick, 52, in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a U.S. citizen in New York City. Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, 2023 pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic.
According to court documents, earlier this year, an Indian government employee (CC-1), working together with others, including Gupta, in India and elsewhere, directed a plot to assassinate on U.S. soil an attorney and political activist who is a U.S. citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City (the Victim).
Gupta is an Indian national who resides in India, is an associate of CC-1 and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others. CC-1 is an Indian government agency employee who has variously described himself as a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence,” and who also has referenced previously serving in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and receiving “officer training” in “battle craft” and “weapons.” CC-1 directed the assassination plot from India.
In or about May 2023, CC-1 recruited Gupta to orchestrate the assassination of the Victim in the United States. The Victim is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a U.S.-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India that is home to a large population of Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India. The Victim has publicly called for some or all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, and the Indian government has banned the Victim and his separatist organization from India.
At CC-1’s direction, Gupta contacted an individual whom Gupta believed to be a criminal associate, but who was in fact a confidential source working with U.S. law enforcement (the CS), for assistance in contracting a hitman to murder the Victim in New York City. The CS introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was in fact an undercover U.S. law enforcement officer (the UC). 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.
In or about June 2023, in furtherance of the assassination plot, CC-1 provided Gupta with personal information about the Victim, including the Victim’s home address in New York City, phone numbers associated with the Victim, and details about the Victim’s day-to-day conduct, which Gupta then passed to the UC. CC-1 directed Gupta to provide regular updates on the progress of the assassination plot, which Gupta accomplished by forwarding to CC-1, among other things, surveillance photographs of the Victim. Gupta directed the UC to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but Gupta also specifically instructed the UC not to commit the murder around the time of anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level U.S. and Indian government officials.
On or about June 18, masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada. Nijjar was an associate of the Victim, and like the Victim, was a leader of the Sikh separatist movement and an outspoken critic of the Indian government. On or about June 19, the day after the Nijjar murder, Gupta told the UC that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets.” Gupta added that, in light of Nijjar’s murder, there was “now no need to wait” on killing the Victim. On or about June 20, CC-1 sent Gupta a news article about the Victim and messaged Gupta, “[i]t’s [a] priority now.”
Gupta is charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Each count carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The DEA’s New York Division and the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI’s New York Field Office are investigating the case, with valuable assistance provided by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, DEA’s Vienna Country Office, FBI’s Prague Country Office, Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, and Czech Republic’s National Drug Headquarters.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Camille L. Fletcher, Ashley C. Nicolas, and Alexander Li for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case with assistance from Trial Attorneys Christopher Cook and Robert McCullers of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, as well as Trial Attorney A.J. Dixon of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.