‘Won’t speak until allegations are proved before jury’: US on probe into murder attempt on Pannun

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WASHINGTON: Stating that the investigation into the alleged plot to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is an ongoing legal matter, the US State Department said it “won’t speak” until “allegations are proved” before a jury. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is an India-designated terrorist who holds American and Canadian citizenship.

“There’s a publicly returned indictment that contains alleged facts or allegations. Until they’re proven before a jury that anyone can go and read, I won’t speak to them here because, of course, it’s an ongoing legal matter, and I’ll leave it at that”, spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a State Department briefing on Thursday (local time). Miller’s remarks came in response to a media query on Pannun’s case investigation.

Notably, a Czech court has ruled that Prague can extradite to the United States the 52-year-old Indian, Nikhil Gupta, who is accused by the United States of involvement in the alleged attempt to kill Sikh separatist leader Pannun, a Czech-based media outlet Seznam Zpravy reported, citing judicial database Infosoud.

As per the US Justice Department indictment, Indian national Nikhil Gupta is currently in custody and has been charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30, 2023, under the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The US Justice Department had claimed that an Indian government employee, who was not identified in the indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan, had recruited Indian national Nikhil Gupta to hire a hitman to allegedly assassinate Panun, which was foiled by US authorities.

The External Affairs Ministry too, in April, had rejected a report in The Washington Post naming Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official’s involvement in the alleged plot to kill Khalistani terrorist Pannun in the US.

Describing it as an “unwarranted and unsubstantiated” imputation on a “serious matter” that is under investigation, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said the US media report was “speculative and irresponsible”. India has also set up a high-level committee to probe the matter.

Moreover, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that Washington has not yet provided any reliable evidence of the involvement of Indian citizens in the case.

“According to the information we have, Washington has not yet provided any reliable evidence of the involvement of Indian citizens in the preparation of the murder of a certain GS Pannun. Speculation on this topic in the absence of evidence is unacceptable,” the official spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova said at a briefing.

Meanwhile, responding to a media query on the ongoing elections in India, the US State Department spokesperson said that Washington does not involve itself in polls anywhere around the world. “Elections in India, as we don’t involve ourselves in elections anywhere in the world,. Those are decisions for the people of India to make”, Miller said.

In April, US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel, on being asked about Lok Sabha elections in India and whether the US has sent any observers, said, “I am not aware of the United States sending any observers. We generally don’t in the case of advanced democracies like India.”

“We, of course, are eager to continue to deepen and strengthen our cooperation with our partners in India, and we are just going to let the election play out. I don’t have any assessment or comment to offer on that,” he had said at a press briefing.

Lok Sabha elections are being conducted in seven phases from April 19-June 1 and is the second-longest polling exercise in the Indi’s electoral history after the first general election, which was held over five months between September 1951 and February 1952.

The votes will be counted on June 4. Notably, the last general elections in 2019 were also held in seven phases. (ANI)

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