As expected, Viacom executive chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman and board member George Abrams have filed suit in Massachusetts Probate and Family Court to try to block a move by their former boss Sumner Redstone to remove them from the trust that would manage the company in the event of Redstone’s death or incapacitation.
The suit brings to a head moves over the weekend by Redstone, angered over Dauman’s attempts to sell a minority stake in Paramount Pictures and the overall decline of the media company he helped build. In the suit, Dauman and Abrams are seeking immediate judicial relief and a court ruling to invalidate their removal from the trust.
The two men said in a statement that Redstone’s daughter, National Amusements and Viacom director Shari Redstone is unduly influencing her father, who they claim they have been denied access to.
“Shari Redstone 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,” Dauman said in a statement. “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 deny requests for Viacom Board members to meet with her father. 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.”
In a separate statement, Abrams said Redstone’s moves are out of character, reflect a “diminished capacity,” and contradict what have been his wishes for more than 25 years.
“My sole purpose in joining in this law suit is to allow a court to determine whether Sumner Redstone, in his current diminished capacity, has been subject to undue influence in his recent actions in changing his Trustees and in changing other documents,” Abrams said in the statement. “ 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.”