Viceroy Research, the self-styled crusader against corporate malfeasance, would probably not pass the antimoney-laundering requirements necessary to open a stockbroking account in its own name.

This was the view of Intellidex, which upped the ante on Thursday in the wake of the critical report it released after being commissioned by Business Leadership SA (BLSA) to look into the issue of short selling in the age of fake news.

The report was highly critical of Viceroy, suggesting the hitherto obscure firm had falsely risen to prominence in SA by publishing a report on Steinhoff it had plagiarised. Its subsequent report on Capitec was less well received and its key allegations refuted by the Reserve Bank.

No legal status

This was part of a broader thrust that highlighted scepticism about how Viceroy generates income and is compensated for research it claims to undertake. "We found no evidence of Viceroy being a registered entity with any legal status to trade," said Stuart Theobald, the lead author of the report, via teleconference at the media briefing held by BLSA into the matter.

Viceroy warns readers in the disclaimer that accompanies its reports that it may have direct or indirect positions in the stocks that are the subject of its research. Theobald was sceptical about this. "The three principals might have trading accounts in their own names but it is unlikely they would be able to trade large amounts like that of a registered hedge fund."

He also questioned how Viceroy is compensated for its research. The only entity Intellidex could find that was linked to the three principals was a company incorporated in the UK in August 2017 called Ganadabi Limited. Its primary business activity was listed as "other publishing". The firm has not had to file its annual accounts as yet.

Intellidex speculated that the company was probably compensated through donations from hedge funds for which it had done research.

In its response to the Intellidex report, Viceroy denied being compensated through donations, as suggested in the report. It also denied having any relationship with any of the individuals or funds cited in Intellidex’s report as the "ecosystem" feeding Viceroy research. Viceroy repeated its assertion that its work "is funded internally". It was not clear whether this meant that profits made from its positions on the companies it covered were the source of these internal funds.

Viceroy also said it was regulated, but did not state in which jurisdiction or what regulated activity it participated in.

The firm did not reply directly to allegations of plagiarism, instead describing how it received "a significant amount of anonymous data relating to companies worldwide on a regular basis", which was the case with Steinhoff. Viceroy said this data was incorporated into reports when it could be verified. No other details of its business or income were provided.