US judge denies request by Nikhil Gupta for defence materials in Pannun assassination plot case

Nikhil Gupta was arrested in Prague, on 30 June 2023, and is being held there. The US government is seeking his extradition to America.


Published Jan 12, 2024 | 1:18 PMUpdatedJan 12, 2024 | 1:18 PM

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun assasination plot

By Yoshita Singh

A US judge has denied a request for defence materials by Indian national Nikhil Gupta, charged by federal prosecutors in a murder-for-hire plot to kill a Khalistani separatist on American soil.

United States District Judge Victor Marrero, in an order Thursday, 11 January, denied a motion filed by Gupta’s attorney seeking discovery material in the case.

Gupta, 52, was charged by federal prosecutors here in an indictment unsealed in November last year with working with an Indian government employee in the foiled plot to kill Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who holds dual US and Canadian citizenships, on American soil.

Gupta was arrested in Prague, the Czech Republic, on 30 June, 2023, and is being held there currently. The US government is seeking his extradition to America.

Related: US charges Indian national in plot to kill Sikh separatist in NYC

The order

In his order, Marrero said that the Court is persuaded by the government’s argument that Gupta has no right to discovery at this time.

He cited Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16.1, which provides that no later than 14 days after the arraignment, “the attorney for the government and the defendant’s attorney must confer and try to agree on a timetable and procedures for pretrial disclosure under Rule 16.”

Marrero said in his order that Gupta has failed to identify any authority suggesting that a defendant has a right to discovery before arraignment.

“Gupta has not yet been arraigned in this case, and the government is currently seeking Gupta’s extradition from the Czech Republic to the United States,” Marrero said.

He added that the government has assured the Court that it is “prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance in this District and arraignment on this case.”

“Accordingly, Gupta’s motion is denied,” Marrero’s order said.

Gupta’s counsel in New York Jeff Chabrowe had filed a Motion to Compel Production of Discovery’ on 4 January in the US District Court, Southern District of New York requesting the Court to direct federal prosecutors to provide “the defence materials relevant to its ability to defend the instant charges.”

Related: ‘Good, appropriate’: US on India setting up high-level probe 

US govt’s response

In its response, the US government objected to providing the defence materials and said it would provide the information only upon Gupta’s appearance in a New York court and his arraignment in the case.

“The government respectfully submits this letter in opposition to defendant Nikhil Gupta’s motion to compel discovery during the pendency of his extradition proceedings in the Czech Republic,” federal prosecutors had said in their response filed Wednesday, 10 January.

They said that consistent with federal rules of criminal procedure, “the government is prepared to produce discovery promptly upon the defendant’s appearance in this District and arraignment on this case. Before then, however, the defendant is not entitled to discovery, and he identifies no good reason for the Court to order it.”

In the government’s response, US Attorney Damian Williams said that Gupta has identified no legal entitlement or justification for discovery at this time. “The government stands ready to provide discovery to him, like any other criminal defendant, promptly upon his appearance and arraignment in this District. His motion to compel discovery should be denied,” Williams had said.

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