Mumbai: The High Level Committee set up to look into the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun will find it difficult to skirt around the mountain of evidence that has been made public in the American indictment against Indian national Nikhil Gupta.
According to indictment filed in the District Court in the southern district of New York, there is video evidence, audio evidence, conversations in encrypted platforms as well as phone calls that detail the plot as it developed. The plot link both the thwarted attempt to kill Pannun as well as the successful killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar on June 18 this year.
Indian Reaction And High-Level Probe Assurance Amid US Charges
New Delhi on Thursday reacted to the indictment saying the development was a matter of concern – the US charging an Indian national with conspiring to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil - and asserted that the high-level probe committee would investigate all aspects of the case.
"As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a US court allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. "We have said and let me reiterate that this is also contrary to government policy," he said at a media briefing.
Most embarrassingly for India some of the conversations that have been recorded occurred in the New Delhi where the intelligence agencies, such as R&AW are headquartered. The person supervising the plot, the indictment says, is “an identified Indian government employee ("CC-1 "), case handler, working together with others in India and elsewhere.” He is said to be a former CRPF officer presumably on deputation to an intelligence agency, who has received officer level training in that organisation and has experience in handling weapons.
According to the indictment the former CRPF official along with Nikhil Gupta were in contact with a person identified only as CS (Confidential Source) who is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operative who puts Nikhil in touch with the hitman who is assigned the job of taking out Nijjar. The hitman is also an undercover officer from the DEA.
The plot got off to a start on May 6, 2023, when the case handler sent an encrypted message to Gupta saying, "This is [CC-1]. .. Save my name as [CC1 Alias]." Gupta saved the telephone number on his phone under an alias for CC-1. The indictment says, “The telephone number used by CC-1 has an India country code and is registered to an email account that, based on Internet Protocol data, accessed the Internet during the period of the murder plot on numerous occasions from the vicinity of New Delhi, where CC-1 worked during the relevant time period for an Indian government agency.” That means that the Americans knew pretty much where he accessed the e-mails from and which government agency he worked.
Gupta's Criminal Case And Plot Development
Nikhil Gupta had a criminal case pending against him in Gujarat. It is not clear what the case related to but the indictment implies that the first condition that Gupta put down was that the case handler had to make the charges go away. The chargesheet says, “Beginning in or about early May 2023, in a series of telephonic and electronic communications between CC-1 and Gupta over enc1ypted applications, CC-1 asked Gupta arrange the murder in exchange for CC-1 's assistance in securing the dismissal of a criminal case against GUPTA in India” Gupta communicated with CC-1 largely in English, but sometimes he left voice notes in Hindi.
Gupta met the case handler in person in New Delhi to further the plot.
Around May 12, the case handler told Gupta that his criminal case “has already been taken care of” and that “nobody from the Gujarat police is calling.” On May 23, the case handler assured Gupta again saying he had “spoke(n) with the boss about your Gujarat case, that it was “all clear” and “nobody will ever bother you again.” The case handler further offered to arrange a meeting between Gupta and "DCP", the urban equivalent to a Deputy Superintendent of Police.
After the Gujarat matter was out of the way, on May 29, 2023, Gupta asked the CS (DEA undercover operative) “by phone if the CS knew anyone who would be willing to carry out a murder-for-hire in the United States”. The target was a lawyer who split time between New York City and another US city ("U.S. City-I"). The CS responded that he would reach out to his contacts. Gupta thereafter engaged in a series of electronic and recorded communications with the CS and later the UC, including by phone, video, and text message.
They discussed, among other things, the logistics and price of the murder. In a video call, Gupta tells the DEA interlocuter that the victim should be contacted under the pretext of obtaining legal advice in order to lure the him to a place where he could be more easily killed.
Gupta sent screenshots to CC-1 of his text messages with the CS, in which the CS requested details about the victim and about payment for the killing. CC-1 responded that "we are ready to pay $150000 ... the offer will go higher depending upon the quality of the work ... and if it's done as soon as possible," referring to the murder ("the work") and executing the plot quickly.
On June 2, 2023, CC-1 messaged Gupta asking for "any update" on the murder plot, stating "[i]t's important and less time." Gupta spoke with the CS by audio call, and urged the CS to have his associates carry out the murder soon, stating: "finish him brother, finish him, don't take too much time ... push these guys, push these guys .. . , finish the job."
On June 12, 2023, on a call with the CS, Gupta stated that there was a "big target" in Canada. A few days later, on June 14 he messaged the CS (Confidential Source) that "we will be needing one good team in Canada also, [t]omorrow I will share you the details.
On June 18, 2023, masked gunmen shot and killed Nijjar, an associate of the “Victim” and another leader of the Sikh separatist movement, outside a Sikh temple in Canada. Soon thereafter CC-1 sent Gupta a video clip showing Nijjar's bloody body slumped in his vehicle. About an hour later, CC-1 sent him the street address of the target's residence in New York City.
Gupta forwarded the video clip showing Nijjar's bloody body to the CS and the UC minutes after receiving it from CC-1. Soon after, Gupta spoke with the UC by audio call, and told the UC that Nijjar "was also the target" but that Nijjar was "#4, #3" on the list, and "not to worry [because] we have so many targets, we have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: now no need to wait."
After Nijjar was killed, Gupta told him on audio call that Nijjar had been the target that he had previously mentioned as the potential Canadian "job" stating: "This is the guy, I send you the video .... We didn't give to [the UC] this job, so some other guy did this job ... in Canada." Gupta told the CS that the Victim would be more careful in the wake of the Nijjar murder: "He will be more cautious, because in Canada, his colleague is down. His colleague is down. I sent you the video. So he will be more cautious, so we should not give them the chance, any chance."
On June 30, 2023, Gupta traveled from India to the Czech Republic. Upon his arrival in the Czech Republic he was arrested by Czech law enforcement authorities at the request of the United States.