The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team says the probe into the slaying of controversial Surrey businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik continues despite first-degree murder charges being laid Wednesday.
Supt. Mandeep Mooker, the officer in charge of IHIT, wouldn’t say whether accused killers Tanner Fox, 21, and Jose Lopez, 23, could have been hired hit men, meaning more suspects in the murder of the one-time Air India bombing suspect.
“Can you talk about whether the investigation is still open and whether there are possibly additional suspects such as people that perhaps hired these young men who are now charged?” Postmedia asked Mooker.
“The investigation is ongoing. Obviously, we’re in the infancy of this investigation as its only 13 days old. So there’s many follow up tasks,” he replied.
He did not provide any more detail on what led police to Fox and Lopez, who both have convictions for violence.
But he did say the case was helped by tips from the public about the white Honda CRV seen near the Payal business complex about 80 minutes before Malik, 75, was gunned down as he arrived just before 9:30 a.m. on July 14. The vehicle was set on fire six blocks away.
“Through conventional investigative techniques, and amazing police work, we were able to identify and arrest two suspects,” Mooker said, thanking the Surrey RCMP for providing resources over the past two weeks.
Malik, who was acquitted of murder charges in the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 329 people, was shot to death outside the office of his company Papillon Eastern Imports at 8236 128 Street.
Fox, who grew up in Abbotsford, and Lopez, of New Westminster, both appeared in Surrey provincial court Wednesday and have been remanded in custody until their next court date on Aug. 10.
Sources told Postmedia that neither has a specific gang or organized crime affiliation despite both having criminal histories. Both were on bail on other charges when they were arrested for Malik’s murder on Tuesday.
Lopez was charged in Kelowna last summer with nine criminal counts, including possession of a firearm with ammunition, pointing a gun, violating a court order to possess firearms and resisting arrest. The matter was sent from provincial court to B.C. Supreme Court last October.
Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for the B.C. Prosecution Service, said Wednesday that Lopez is next due in court on the gun charges in November with a trial date in Kelowna of Dec. 5.
“He was ordered released on these charges on $5,000 cash bail with conditions on July 30, 2021,” McLaughlin said. “The BCPS opposed his release.”
Lopez was also convicted in September 2019 of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon for an incident in Abbotsford a year earlier. He got an 18-month conditional sentence and a 10-year firearms prohibition.
Fox was convicted this past April of resisting or obstructing a peace officer and sentenced to four days in jail. Last fall, he was charged with aggravated assault related to a New Westminster incident. He was released on $500 bail.
He was earlier convicted of assault causing bodily harm related to a November 2019 stabbing in Abbotsford and sentenced to 119 days in jail, as well as a 10-year firearms prohibition.
Mooker also said he couldn’t comment on a possible motive in the Malik murder. Nor would he comment on weapons used or other elements of the case.
“I think that’s going to be part of our ongoing tasks here,” he said of determining a motive. “It’s very difficult 13 days in as these investigation sometimes takes years to develop — and that’s why in these initial stages — the swift reaction of all of our teams coming together was amazing work to identify these individuals, and charge them.”
Surrey RCMP commander Brian Edwards thanked city residents for their assistance in the high-profile case.
“Thank you for your trust, your patience and your assistance in solving this matter … the involvement of the public at all stages of investigations is how we solve crime,” Edwards said.
The way the murder was carried out, allegedly by young shooters with no apparent link to Malik, bore all the hallmarks of other recent targeted slayings committed by hired hit men. They usually steal a vehicle, conduct surveillance, shoot their target, then burn the getaway car. Postmedia revealed details of how hits are done in a special report last year.
Malik was a one-time Air India bombing suspect linked to the Sikh separatist movement. He was acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges in March 2005.
The divisive figure was also a founder of the Khalsa Credit Union and the Satnam Education Society, which runs several independent schools and receives financing from the B.C. government.
Postmedia has spoken to more than a dozen people who know Malik or worked on the investigation into the June 23, 1985, Air India bombing that left 329 dead.
None believed that Malik’s murder, which they all described as shocking, had anything to do with the terrorist plot 37 years ago.