Family seeks New Delhi's help for Indian suspect in murder plot in US

FILE PHOTO: Indian man suspected by the U.S. of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist appears in court in New York

By Krishn Kaushik

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The family of an Indian man accused of plotting with an Indian government official to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States wants New Delhi's help to "get justice", a source close to the family told Reuters on Thursday.

Nikhil Gupta has been accused by U.S. federal prosecutors of unsuccessfully plotting with an Indian official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S. resident who advocates for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.

The plot was thwarted by the U.S. government, which then warned India about concerns of its involvement.

Gupta was extradited to the United States this month after being arrested in Prague last year on a visit from India. He pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a court in Manhattan.

India has designated Pannun a "terrorist" but has dissociated itself from the plot against Pannun, saying it goes against government policy.

The family source, who declined to be named given the sensitive nature of a case that has diplomatic implications, said it "was a matter of concern for our family that we were kept in the dark about his extradition".

"We have not been able to establish direct communication with him since his extradition to the U.S.," the source said, adding they have received no response to queries to the Indian government and its embassies.

"Regardless of the allegations raised against him, he is an Indian citizen and a patriot who deserves the rights and protections granted by the government to its citizens."

The source said the family believes Gupta, 52, "is a victim in this series of events" but that "he will get justice".

India's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The governments of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden are trying to step up bilateral ties against their common rival China.

India said late last year it a was "matter of concern" that an Indian government official was linked to the plot and that it would formally investigate concerns raised by the United States. No investigation report has been made public.

Separately, Canada has been investigating whether India's government was linked to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in June 2023 in the Canadian province of British Columbia. India has denied the charges and asked Canada to share more information.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik, Writing by Krishna N. Das, Editing by Timothy Heritage)