The Constitutional Court in the Czech Republic has stayed lower courts’ orders approving the extradition of an Indian accused by the United States of conspiring to assassinate a Sikh separatist in New York, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

The man, 52-year-old Nikhil Gupta, is in prison in Czech capital Prague. The United States has filed a request with the Czech authorities to extradite him.

Gupta would suffer “disproportionately greater harm to him than anyone else” if his extradition to the US is approved, the Constitutional Court said in its interim order on January 30. It added that such an action would be irreversible.

The High Court in Prague had ruled positively on the US appeal on January 8, according to The Indian Express. Prior to that, the Municipal Court in an order dated November 23, 2023, also said that Gupta could be extradited.

Gupta challenged the orders in the Constitutional Court, the highest court of the Czech Republic, on January 19. His lawyers argued that the lower courts had not properly assessed the political nature of the act, the newspaper reported.

Markéta Andrová, the spokesperson of the Czech Ministry of Justice, told The Indian Express that the government cannot decide on the extradition request until the Constitutional Court “decides on the merits of the complaint filed by Nikhil Gupta”.

Representatives of the justice ministry also told the newspaper that there was no fixed timeframe for the Constitutional Court to deliver its verdict.

“In the Czech Republic, the duration of a process before the Constitutional Court can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the court,” said Andrová. “The length of the process is really hard to estimate.”

Allegations against Gupta

Gupta was arrested on June 30 by the Czech authorities at the request of the United States when he travelled from India to Prague.

On November 29, the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, announced that it had filed “murder-for-hire charges” against Gupta in connection with his alleged participation in a thwarted plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

It alleged that Gupta had been recruited by an Indian government employee, who “directed a plot to assassinate on US soil an attorney and political activist who is a US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City”.

While the statement did not name the separatist leader, a report in the Financial Times in November had identified him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

The United States’ Department of Justice also alleged that the plot was part of a larger conspiracy to kill one person in California and at least three in Canada.

In December, Gupta’s family moved India’s Supreme Court, alleging that he was in the Czech Republic on a leisure and business exploration trip when he was illegally detained after exiting the Prague airport. It had sought directions to be issued to the external affairs ministry, the Union home ministry and the Indian embassy in the Czech Republic to immediately trace and produce Gupta.

However, Vladimír Repka, the spokesperson of the Czech justice ministry, later told The Indian Express: “Any judicial authorities of the Republic of India have no jurisdiction in the matter in question, the case is under the jurisdiction of the competent authorities of the Czech Republic.”

India’s investigation

New Delhi had constituted a high-level committee to examine the inputs.

On March 20, Bloomberg reported that New Delhi’s investigation into the claims by Washington has found rogue officials not authorised by the Indian government had been involved in the alleged plot to assassinate Pannun.

At least one of the persons involved in the alleged plot does not work anymore for Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, Bloomberg quoted unidentified officials as saying. However, the person was still working for the Indian government.

RAW officer’s alleged involvement

On April 29, The Washington Post reported a Research and Analysis Wing officer named Vikram Yadav was involved in an alleged plot to assassinate Pannun and another Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed in Canada in June.

This was the first time that allegations emerged about the identity and affiliation of an individual from within India’s foreign intelligence agency in Pannun’s case.

The report cited assessments of American intelligence agencies that the operation against Pannun had been cleared by Samant Goel, then the chief of India’s foreign intelligence agency.

India’s external affairs ministry described the report as “unwarranted and unsubstantiated imputations”.

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