The ongoing soap opera that is the battle between Sumner Redstone and his former friend, Viacom executive chairman and CEO Philippe Dauman, got a new twist Friday, after reports that Viacom board member Frederic Salerno has asked Redstone’s lawyers for a face-to-face meeting.
Redstone, who turns 93 today, has been embroiled in a battle with his former top lieutenant for about a week, since he made moves to oust Dauman and Viacom board member George Abrams from the trust that will control Redstone’s 80% interest in Viacom after his death or incapacitation. Those moves strengthened Redstone’s daughter Shari Redstone’s power in the trust and some fear that she may be engineering a coup that would remove Dauman as Viacom chief.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Salerno sent a letter to Sumner Redstone’s attorney Michael Tu asking for the meeting, which the paper he insisted include “unfettered and unfiltered access,” which has been Redstone’s past policy.
According to the Journal, Salerno, Viacom’s lead independent director and the former vice chairman of Verizon Communications, somewhat sarcastically wrote in a Thursday letter to Tu that the meeting would begin with “greetings and pleasantries,” followed by a question and answer session to hear Redstone’s position on company strategy and its planned sale of a minority stake in Paramount Pictures. Redstone, who won Paramount in the early 1990s after a bloody battle with mogul Barry Diller, has reportedly taken exception to that sale.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, Dauman claimed that Redstone has diminished capacity, can barely speak or feed himself and is being unduly influenced by his daughter, all which she has refuted as false accusations. Shari Redstone has countered with Dauman’s November court deposition that said her father was alert, aware and “as opinionated as ever.”
Dauman’s spokesmen have said that depositon was made was six months ago, and Redstone’s health has deteriorated rapidly.
In a research note Wednesday, Telsey Advisory Group media analyst Tom Eagan said given the recent developments, odds are that Shari Redstone will attempt to replace Dauman.