Viceroy Research, which unleashed a tidal wave of value destruction following the publication of a report entitled “Steinhoff’s skeletons: off balance sheet entities inflating earnings, obscuring losses”, has done everything to remain anonymous. But following an extensive joint investigation by Moneyweb and Jonathan Shapiro from the Australian Financial Review, we can reveal the identities of the men.
The firm published the controversial report on alleged financial irregularities at Steinhoff the day after the company announced that Markus Jooste resigned as its CEO and that auditors Deloitte refused to sign off the group’s financial statements. The report, which has been hailed as highly professional and accurate, contributed to the implosion of the Steinhoff share price.
Viceroy also seemed to earn the respect of many South African investors. The mere announcement by Viceroy in a tweet that it will soon publish a report focused on another JSE-listed company, sent the share prices of Aspen and several property stocks, including Resilient, into a sharp decline as they were deemed possible targets.
Viceroy is headed by a 44-year-old British citizen and ex-social worker John Fraser Perring (pictured above) who operates between Lincolnshire and New York, and two Australian citizens, both 23, who operate from Melbourne – Gabriel Bernarde and Aidan Lau (both pictured below). Viceroy has been the target of litigation in the United States where it has written extensively on the perceived fraud being perpetrated by MiMedx.
Stephen Saad, the CEO of Aspen, called for the regulators including the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and the Financial Services Board (FSB) to investigate the trading in Aspen shares following its share price collapsing intra-day when rumours it may be the next target of a Viceroy report began swirling in the market place.
The first clue Moneyweb got of the potential identities of the individuals was through the scanning of pdf reports available on the Viceroy.org website. Hidden in the metadata of three of the files and attributed to “author” was the same name, that of Gabriel Bernarde, who until recently was employed as an analyst at liquidator Ferrier Hodgson. “He [Bernarde] left in December of his own accord to pursue his own interests,” according to an interview conducted by Shapiro with a company representative of Ferrier Hodgson.
When Shapiro got in touch with Bernarde, via Linkedin, he didn’t deny his involvement:
JS: “We need to clarify some points about the documents. Is there an e-mail address we can put some questions to you over? If this is a case of mistaken identity, the sooner we clear this up the better.”
GB: “You best reach out to Viceroy. Whatever your agenda, I don’t want to get involved.”
When Moneyweb spoke to Perring on Wednesday, he admitted off the record to be the man behind the mask. He promised to respond publicly to detailed questions sent by Moneyweb. These have remained unanswered (see backstory below).
It was through tips from a source that Moneyweb was led to companies house in the United Kingdom where a company by the name of Ganadabi Limited was registered as a private company in the UK on August 29 last year. The company’s commercial activities were listed as “other publishing activities”.
The company listed three directors: Gabriel Bernarde, Aidan Lau and Fraser John Perring.
When picking apart the name Ganadabi, Moneyweb noted the letters combined to spell “Gab and Ai” or alternatively “Aidan Gab”.
When Moneyweb deputy editor Sasha Planting initially spoke to Viceroy on the day its report into Steinhoff was published, she spoke to a man who identified himself as “Fraser” and who had a distinctly British accent. This was the first suggestion that the individuals concerned were not American or based in New York as we had been led to believe.
Aidan Lau is linked to Gabriel Bernarde on Facebook and, from Linkedin, Moneyweb gathered that they went to the same high school (Class of 2012, Balwyn High School) and college. It is apparent from the Facebook link that a lady by the name of Jeanette Perring commented on Aidan’s post. Jeanette appears to be the wife of Fraser Perring – she is listed as a director of one of his other companies. They both provided the same address for correspondence, which matches the address given in the Ganadabi founding documents: 28 Robins Crescent, Witham St Hughs, Lincoln, United Kingdom, LN6 9UU.
Fraser appears to have no previous involvement in financial markets. There are also questions surrounding his character. He was employed as a social worker in Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom until he was left under a cloud of controversy in 2014.
Read: Viceroy’s links exposed after leaving digital trail (paywall)
With the ongoing investigation Moneyweb has been conducting, there are doubts as to whether Viceroy conducts its own research or if it is merely a front for other investors that seek to avoid the limelight but profit from it.
Between the Australian Financial Review and Moneyweb, we ascertained the identities of the three men this week and engaged in extensive discussions with Perring regarding coming forward and identifying himself. He gave us an undertaking he would respond publicly to questions by 2pm on Thursday.
He mentioned over the course of discussions with Moneyweb lasting over an hour on Wednesday that he had received death threats and that the physical wellbeing of his family would be at risk should we reveal his identity.