Indian national pleads not guilty in plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York City

NEW YORK (AP) — An Indian national extradited to the United States pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges arising from an alleged failed plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York.

Nikhil Gupta, 52, was extradited to the U.S. on Friday from the Czech Republic following his arrest in Prague a year ago.

He made an initial appearance on Monday in Manhattan federal court, where his attorney, Jeff Chabrowe, entered the not guilty plea on his behalf. The lawyer told a U.S. magistrate judge that his client might seek bail at a future court date. Gupta is scheduled to appear before a district judge on June 28.

In November, U.S. prosecutors announced that a plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh separatist leader living in New York City, had been thwarted in June of last year after a sting operation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Pannun advocates for the creation of a sovereign Sikh state and is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

According to an indictment, Gupta was recruited in May by an unidentified Indian government employee to orchestrate the assassination. Gupta has denied any involvement.

The indictment said Gupta contacted a criminal associate to help find a hit man to carry out the killing, but that person happened to be a DEA informant. The informant then introduced Gupta to a purported hit man, who was actually a DEA agent, it said.

In a statement that he read outside the courtroom, Chabrowe called the case a “complex matter for both our countries.”

He added: “It is extremely important that we refrain from rushing to conclusions so early in the process. Background and details will develop that may cast government allegations into an entirely new light. We will pursue his defense vigorously and ensure he receives full due process regardless of outside pressures.”

Gupta's Czech attorney, Petr Slepička, previously told The Associated Press that he believed that the charges arose from “a political case.”

The charges were the second major recent accusation of complicity of Indian government officials in attempts to kill Sikh separatist figures living in North America.

In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were credible allegations that the Indian government had links to the assassination in that country of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. India rejected the accusation as absurd.