LEICESTER, England (AP) _ Four Sikh men accused of conspiracy to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during his visit to Britain planned to hire killers from the outlawed Irish Republican Army, prosecutor James England alleged Thursday.

But the supposed-IRA men contacted to do the killing in October 1984 turned out to be undercover detectives, England said at the opening of the case at Leicester magistrates court.

Parmata Singh Marwaha, 43, Sikvinder Singh Gill, 30, Jarmail Singh Ranuana, 46 and Harminder Singh Rai, 30, denied the charge. All four live in Leicester, a central England town with a large immigrant community from the Indian sub- continent.

The prosecutor said that three of the accused met what they thought were members of the IRA in a Leicester hotel.

He said that a secret tape recording was made of Marwaha saying that funds were available for the killing from the International Sikh Youth Federation, of which he was treasurer.

Marwaha's attorney, Ivan Geffen, said that his client believed all along that the hotel meeting was a joke.

Geffen claimed that the case was a deliberate political conspiracy between the Indian and British governments, designed to denigrate Sikhs and their desire for an independent state. India's Sikhs are a religious minority.

All of the accused were denied bail except Rai.