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U.S. indictment alleges multiple Indian assassination plans across North America

A demonstrator in Toronto protests against India's government in September, after Canada first alleged that the Indian government was involved in assassinating a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

A demonstrator in Toronto protests against India's government in September, after Canada first alleged that the Indian government was involved in assassinating a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.

Photo: (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

RCI

The indictment suggests there were plans to carry out three killings in Canadian territory

A U.S. criminal indictment unsealed Wednesday has unleashed an unprecedented flood of details about an alleged plot connected to the Indian government to carry out multiple assassinations in North America.

Perhaps the most surprising allegation in the murder-for-hire indictment filed in New York State against Indian national Nikhil Gupta is the claim that there were plans to carry out three such killings on Canadian soil.

The indictment, which was made public Wednesday, accuses Gupta of attempting this year to arrange one killing in New York after receiving instructions from an Indian government employee.

While the charges involve an alleged scheme in New York City, U.S. prosecutors allege it's connected to a case that roiled Canada-India relations.

In a related development Wednesday, the Indian government announced it will conduct a high-level inquiry (new window) into the allegations in the indictment.

The indictment says an unnamed Indian government employee offered $100,000 for a contract hit on a Sikh separatist in New York, and asked Gupta, 52, to arrange it.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a White House meeting.

A new allegation has complicated what Washington sees as its vital relationship with India. Seen here: U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a White House meeting in June.

Photo: Reuters / Evelyn Hockstein

As part of the deal, Gupta allegedly was promised a favour. The indictment, which describes Gupta as a drug and weapons trafficker, says the purported Indian government employee promised he could make a criminal case disappear for him.

Gupta subsequently contacted someone he believed was a hitman without knowing he was an undercover officer with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, says the indictment.

Finish him brother, finish him, don't take too much time, Gupta allegedly told one person involved in the plot — a DEA informant who introduced him to the undercover officer.

The indictment says Gupta told the would-be killer around June to carry out the assassination as quickly as possible — but not at a sensitive political moment.

The indictment alleges Gupta said he did not want the killing to happen around the time of a high-level U.S.-India political meeting. That period coincides with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's June 2023 visit to Washington.

But things changed on June 18, when masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, says the indictment.

The indictment alleges the Indian government employee said the killing had accelerated the timetable for the assassination in New York — It's [a] priority now, he allegedly texted.

Gupta allegedly sent his supposed contract killer a video of Nijjar's body and told him to do it quickly.

The indictment says Gupta told the police informant in an audio call that they had four jobs to finish before June 29 — one in New York and three in Canada.

CBC News has reported that Canadian authorities amassed both human and signals intelligence — including communications involving Indian officials — before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the bombshell allegation in the House of Commons in September that the Indian government was connected to Nijjar's killing.

That allegation triggered a diplomatic rift with India.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Sean Kilpatrick

Last week, the Financial Times reported (new window) that U.S. officials had filed a criminal indictment and thwarted a similar plot against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a citizen of the U.S. and Canada.

Pannum is not named in the indictment unsealed Wednesday, but the facts of the case match the reporting in the Financial Times.

Gupta was arrested around June 30 in the Czech Republic, at the request of the United States. He faces two counts of murder for hire.

Canada's foreign minister was asked Wednesday why U.S. authorities had managed to thwart a purported assassination, when Canada had not.

Melanie Joly said she would not comment on a U.S. criminal case but added she expected more from India, which has expelled dozens of Canadian diplomats.

Clearly, we expect more cooperation on their part. And more engagement on their part, Joly said from Brussels, where she was attending a NATO meeting.

Alexander Panetta (new window) · CBC News

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