Czech court allows extradition of Indian man wanted in US Sikh leader’s murder plot

A Czech court has cleared an Indian man’s extradition to the US over his involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate an American citizen in New York.

Nikhil Gupta, 52, is charged in the US with conspiracy to murder Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

The Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic rejected Mr Gupta’s challenge to rulings by a municipal court and the high court of Prague granting the US extradition request.

He had argued that the lower courts didn’t examine political motives behind the actions he was facing charges for.

Mr Gupta is lodged in a Prague jail and will be extradited after a final decision is made by the justice minister.

He was arrested in June last year under a bilateral extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic, according to the Associated Press.

Mr Gupta was recruited to murder Mr Pannun by an unnamed Indian government employee who has described himself as a "senior field officer" with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence”, according to the US indictment seen by the Associated Press. He has also claimed to have served in the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and been trained in "battle craft" and "weapons”.

Mr Gupta, the indictment stated, contacted a person he believed to be a criminal associate to help find a hitman to kill Mr Pannun. The person happened to be a confidential source working with the DEA.

The source introduced Mr Gupta to a purported hitman, who was actually a DEA agent.

In June, the Indian government employee gave Mr Gupta the home address of Mr Pannun, his phone numbers and details about his daily conduct, including surveillance photographs, which he passed on to the undercover DEA agent, the indictment added.

It said Mr Gupta told the undercover agent to carry out the murder as soon as possible but not around the time of anticipated engagements between American and Indian officials.

The US authorities learned about the alleged plot to kill Mr Pannun, who is considered a terrorist by the Indian government, last spring.

Mr Pannun has been a leading advocate for the Khalistan movement, which seeks to establish an independent Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab state.

"When we were made aware of the fact that the defendant in this case had credibly indicated 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," White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement at the time.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a number of exchanges had taken place with Indian government counterparts prior to Mr Gupta’s detention, in which it was stressed that those responsible for the plot must be held to account.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly told his Indian counterpart, Ravi Sinha, that the US needed an assurance that this would not happen again and warned that another episode could permanently damage the trust established between our two countries, the official said.

US president Joe Biden reportedly raised the matter directly with prime minister Narendra Modi when they met at the Group of 20 Summit in September in New Delhi.