Viacom’s top executive filed suit to block being removed from a trust that would oversee the fate of his company if its controlling shareholder, Sumner Redstone, died or became incapacitated. The target of his legal salvo are the purported actions of Sumner Redstone himself.
Dauman and George Abrams, a longtime Sumner Redstone adviser who would also sit on the trust, filed a complaint in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Probate and Family Court challenging changes purportedly made to the Trust arrangements on May 20, 2016 by an attorney claiming to represent Mr. Redstone. The pair are fighting to invalidate their removal, charging that the elder Redstone,who controls 80% of both Viacom and CBS through family holdings in National Amusements Inc., is being manipulated by his daughter, Shari.
is attempting to illegally hijack her father’s well-established estate plan by removing professional managers and reportedly installing her daughter, an employee and a friend who are firmly under her control. We all continue to have great respect and affection for Mr. Redstone, but he is clearly being manipulated by his daughter, Shari. After years of estrangement, she has inserted herself into his home, taken over his life, and isolated him from anyone not under her control, including long-time business colleagues. In fact, she has recently and repeatedly arranged to
requests for Viacom Board members to meet with her father,” Dauman said in a statement. “Her singular goal is to assume complete control of his businesses, despite Mr. Redstone’s long-term desire for a professionally managed Trust and an independent Board of Directors. Shari’s actions amount to an unlawful corporate takeover, and if effectuated, could have far-reaching consequences for thousands of shareholders and employees of Viacom.”
The action comes after Sumner Redstone last last week moved to remove both Dauman and Abrams from a panel that also includes Shari Redstone
and Tyler Korff, a Redstone grandson, as well as several longstanding Redstone family attorneys. This body has been put in place to govern the National Amusements
stakes in both Viacom and CBS, in case of the elder Redstone’s demise or inability to govern.
The drama is the latest episode in a soap opera that has engulfed Redstone in the twilight of his life. For months, he and his family grappled with salacious claims about his mental well-being levied by two women who had lived at his home and benefited from in his largess. In a video deposition made part of a recent lawsuit levied by one of the Redstone companions, Manuela Herzer, Sumner Redstone appeared on camera and was able to express displeasure at the prospect of Herzer gaining control over his health-care decisions, but did not respond in a lucid manner to other questions about his life and history – leaving in doubt whether the media mogul was in full command of his capacities.
In recent weeks, Redstone has appeared to clash with Viacom management over an effort to sell part of the company’s Paramount studio. Viacom has come under scrutiny in recent months de to falling ratings at two of its flagship operations, MTV and Comedy Central. A new president was instilled at MTV last year and Comedy Central’s top executive Michelle Ganeless, recently announced she would step down from her role after many years with the network.
Shari Redstone took issue with the claims in a statement Monday. “It is absurd for anyone to accuse Shari of manipulating her father or controlling what goes on in his household. Sumner makes his own decisions regarding whom he wants to see both in his home and elsewhere, and he has his own team of independent advisors to counsel him on corporate and other matters,” the statement, issued by a public-relations firm, said. “As to the idea that Shari, an attorney and respected businesswoman, would ‘unlawfully’ use his name, that is utterly ridiculous.”\
In a statement, Abrams said the removal of both himself and Dauman from the trust was not in keeping with Sumner Redstone’s previously stated wishes. “For over 25 years Sumner has discussed his will and various trusts with me and I was instrumental in setting up this trust at the time of his divorce. He has impressed on me his wishes that the Trust be managed in a professional manner and that the children of the son and his daughter be treated fairly and equally despite some internal family conflicts. He also discussed at length with me his feelings about Viacom and CBS and the future of both companies. The changes purportedly being made would alter his previously and repeatedly expressed wishes. As a result of some of the information which has recently been received, I believe a court test on the question of undue influence is necessary.”