The United States has objected to a motion by Nikhil Gupta – the Indian national accused of conspiring to kill Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun – seeking proof of charges against him.
The US govenment said it would only provide the information when Gupta – being held in a Czech Republic prison pending extradition – appears, and is arraigned in, a New York City court.
The US government was responding to a ‘Motion to Compel Production of Discovery’ filed by Gupta’s legal team in a New York court last week. Gupta’s lawyers requested the court to direct federal prosecutors to provide “materials relevant to (our) ability to defend the charges”.
US District Judge Victor Marrero gave the federal government three days to respond.
In that response, filed on the third day, the US government said it was “prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance”.
The US government also argued Gupta “is not entitled to discovery (before then) and identifies no good reason” to receive the prosecution’s material, and that witholding such material is “consistent with federal rules of criminal procedure”.
Earlier, Gupta’s lawers in the US had said their client had received “no evidence or documentation of any sort… other than the indictment itself”, and that the ‘Motion to Compel Production of Discovery’ is “particularly appropriate here… as he is being subject to repeated interrogations by US officials without presence of counsel representing him in his criminal case”.
“The defence counsel present in Prague has no evidence… other than bare indictment. Accordingly, this Court should order the government to comply with the defence discovery request here,” the motion said.
Nikhil Gupta, 52, is accused of conspiring with an as-yet unnamed Indian government employee – codenamed CC-1 – to hire a ‘hitman’ – an undercover US federal agent – to kill Pannun, an American-Canadian citizen. US prosecutors claim to have communication between the two, in which the latter asked the former to plan the killing. In return, a criminal case against him in Gujarat was dropped.
If convicted, Nikhil Gupta faces twin 10-year jail terms – one each for the murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire charges.
A Prague court has approved an initial request for his extradition to the United States “but several layers of judicial review remain before any final extradition order (is issued)”, his lawyers have said.
Last month Gupta also approached the Supreme Court in India, via a family member called ‘X’, claiming human rights violations. Specifically, it claimed a breach of fundamental rights, including “forced consumption of beef and pork” that he found offensive as a “devout Hindu and vegetarian”.
The petition was dismissed with the court noting the matter as “sensitive” and one with “international implications. It also said it had to respect the sovereignty of courts in other nations.
“The only intervention we can look into is consular access as per Vienna Convention, which you yourself say in the petition that you have got…” Justice Sanjiv Khanna said.
Also last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first public comment on a topic that has the potential to disrupt economic and diplomatic relations between India and the US.
Modi said, “If a citizen of ours has done anything, good or bad, we are ready to look into it.” He also said India-US ties could not be derailed over “a few incidents”.
Meanwhile, in its formal response to the charges against an Indian citizen, the External Affairs Ministry said “India takes such inputs seriously… and relevant departments are already examining the issue”.