A Czech court has approved the extradition of Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian man accused by the United States of involvement in an alleged plot to murder Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil, a Reuters report said. The Czech Justice Ministry announced the decision on Friday, leaving the final call in the hands of Justice Minister Pavel Blazek once the ruling is delivered to all relevant parties in the case.
Gupta, who was detained by Czech authorities in June last year in Prague, is accused by US federal prosecutors of collaborating with an Indian government official in a scheme to kill Pannun, a Sikh separatist with dual US and Canadian citizenship.
According to the Czech news website seznamzpravy dot com, Gupta argued that there was a case of mistaken identity and contested that he was not the person the United States was seeking. He characterised the case as “political” in nature, setting the stage for what could be a protracted legal battle.
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“The time frame for the minister’s decision cannot be assumed at this point,” said a Czech Justice Ministry spokesperson, as quoted by news agency Reuters.
The Justice Minister has a three-month window to seek the opinion of the Czech Supreme Court if any doubts arise concerning the lower court’s decisions, said the ministry spokesperson. The Prague High Court had previously dismissed Gupta’s appeal against a December ruling by a lower court, that ruled that extradition is allowed.
The Czech Republic has historically allowed American extradition requests. Gupta’s lawyer has implored the Czech court to not authorise the extradition.
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In December last year, the Financial Times reported that the case involved a high-ranking Indian official, identified as “CC-1,” accused of orchestrating the assassination plot. The US Department of Justice, in an indictment, claimed that CC-1, communicating with Gupta through encrypted applications, orchestrated the murder plan in exchange for assisting Gupta in resolving a criminal case in India.
According to the indictment, Gupta, labeled an “international narcotics trafficker” by the US, allegedly met CC-1 in person in New Delhi to advance the plot. The agreement reportedly involved a $100,000 payment to an undercover officer, posing as a hitman, for Pannun’s murder in New York City.
The US government contended that it will only provide evidence of the charges against him when Gupta appears and is arraigned in a New York City court.
Gupta, accused of conspiring with the unnamed Indian government official to hire an undercover federal agent for the assassination, faces severe charges that could result in twin 10-year jail terms if convicted.