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Trudeau says India must now take Canada’s murder allegations seriously after explosive US indictment

Justin Trudeau said India should “take seriously” Canada’s allegations that its government agents were involved in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, after the US unveiled similar explosive allegations.

The US Justice Department on Wednesday alleged the involvement of an unnamed Indian government official in an alleged plot to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen, who lives in New York.

An Indian national, identified as Nikhil Gupta, 52, was indicted on charges of murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, according to the court filings.

The explosive indictment mirrors Canada’s allegations from September that Indian government agents were involved in the June killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.

New Delhi has consistently pushed back against Canada’s allegations, calling them absurd. It has, however, opened a high-level inquiry into the charges laid by US prosecutors.

Both Mr Pannun and Nijjar had advocated for the carving out of a Sikh homeland from India, known as the Khalistan movement.

“The news coming out of the United States further underscores what we’ve been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously,” Mr Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we’re getting to the bottom of this,” he said.

He said Canada has been working closely with its American counterparts since August on the “very serious allegations”.

Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is pictured in his office on Wednesday (AP)
Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is pictured in his office on Wednesday (AP)

Canada has been urging India for “more cooperation on their part and more engagement” into the investigations of Nijjar’s killing, while the Indian side has demanded more evidence over their allegations before it will pursue the case.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry doubled down on Delhi’s allegations that Canada was promoting “anti-India extremists”.

“In so far as Canada is concerned, we have said that they have consistently given space to anti-India extremists and that is actually the heart of the issue,” said Arindam Bagchi.

“Our diplomatic representatives in Canada have borne the brunt of this.

“So, we expect the Government of Canada to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. We have also seen interference by Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs and that is unacceptable,” he said.

Following his meeting with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in Delhi, Mr Trudeau had in September said there were “credible allegations” of the Indian state’s involvement in the murder of Canadian citizen Nijjar, a plumber and prayer leader at the local gurudwara in British Columbia where he was shot and killed.

The allegations resulted in Indo-Canadian relations dipping to new lows, as each country expelled a senior diplomat from the other. India also suspended visa services for Canadians – not all of which have been restored – and threatened to strip the diplomatic immunity of dozens of Canadian diplomats.

The indictment by US prosecutors now threatens US-India relations. It said an unnamed Indian government official offered to pay $100,000 for Mr Pannun to be killed.

Mr Gupta, 52, who was named in the indictment, was arrested in the Czech Republic in June and accused of working as a middle-man for the Indian government agent.

Even before the US indictment was unsealed, India announced it had set up a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns about preexisting knowledge of the alleged plot.

The Indian foreign ministry said Delhi took the allegations shared by the US seriously since “they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments were already examining the issue”.