The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Free Speech

"Indian National" Extradited "in Connection with Foiled Plot to Assassinate U.S. Citizen" for Citizen's Sikh Separatist Advocacy

The government alleges that Nikhil Gupta was involved in a "plot, directed by an employee of the Indian government, to target and assassinate a U.S. citizen for his support of the Sikh separatist movement in India."


From yesterday's Justice Department press release:

Nikhil Gupta, also known as Nick, 53, an Indian national, was arrested and detained in the Czech Republic on June 30, 2023, and extradited pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic. Gupta arrived in the United States on June 14 and was presented on the charges today.

"This extradition makes clear that the Justice Department will not tolerate attempts to silence or harm American citizens," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. "Nikhil Gupta will now face justice in an American courtroom for his involvement in an alleged plot, directed by an employee of the Indian government, to target and assassinate a U.S. citizen for his support of the Sikh separatist movement in India…."

"This murder-for-hire plot — allegedly orchestrated by an Indian government employee to kill a U.S. citizen in New York City — was a brazen attempt to silence a political activist for exercising a quintessential American right: his freedom of speech," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco….

"This defendant has been extradited for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil," said Director Christopher Wray of the FBI. "The FBI will not tolerate attempts by foreign nationals, or anyone else for that matter, to repress constitutionally-protected freedoms in the United States. We will continue to work with our partners at home and abroad to protect our citizens and these sacred rights."

"As alleged, the defendant conspired from India with an Indian government employee to in an unsuccessful assassination plot, right here in New York City, against a U.S. citizen of Indian origin," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. "Today's extradition makes clear our unwavering resolve to investigate, thwart, and prosecute those who seek to harm and silence U.S. citizens here and elsewhere. We thank our Czech government counterparts for their close cooperation in this extradition."

"Last year, the DEA uncovered an assassination plot orchestrated by an Indian government employee and Nikhil Gupta, an international narcotics trafficker. Gupta is alleged to have orchestrated a dangerous plot to murder a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. DEA's number one priority is always the health and safety of the American people," said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. "This extradition is the result of the hard work and commitment of the DEA New York Division's Drug Enforcement Task Force, which is comprised of DEA, the New York State Police, and the New York City Police Department. This case is also a testament to the partnerships DEA has built with our law enforcement partners around the globe, like the Czech Republic's National Drug Headquarters, as well as our federal law enforcement partners here at home."

According to court documents, last year, an Indian government employee (CC-1) worked together with Gupta and others in India and elsewhere to direct an assassination plot against an attorney and political activist, who is a U.S. citizen of Indian origin, on U.S. soil.

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 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 U.S. 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 was in fact a confidential source working with the DEA (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 a DEA undercover 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, 2023, 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, 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, 2023, 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, 2023, 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, 2023, CC-1 sent Gupta a news article about the victim and messaged Gupta, "[i]t's [a] priority now."

Gupta is charged with using interstate commerce "with intent that a murder [for hire] be committed," 18 U.S.C. § 1958, and with conspiracy to do so.