Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman filed a suit in Massachusetts seeking to undo his removal as a trustee of the trust that will control the $40 billion media empire of Sumner Redstone after the 92-year-old dies or becomes incapacitated.
Sumner Redstone removed Dauman and another Viacom director, George Abrams, on Friday, giving his daughter Shari Redstone a leg up in controlling his assets, which include Viacom and CBS.
"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. We all continue to have great respect and affection for Mr. Redstone, but he is clearly being manipulated by his daughter, Shari," Dauman said in a statement.
"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," Dauman's statement added. "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."
Sumner Redstone recently won a lawsuit that challenged his competence to make healthcare and financial decisions. Dauman testified that in meetings with Redstone, he was alert and engaged.
In April, Redstone stepped down as executive chairman of Viacom. Shari Redstone was the only director to vote against making Dauman the new chairman. Last week, the board voted to eliminate Redstone's pay from the company, signaling his declining influence in its affairs.
A statement on behalf of Redstone on Sunday said he said Dauman was making "attacks" and "misrepresentations" about him and his condition. He also said he opposed Dauman's move to sell a stake in Paramount Pictures.
Analysts said that given Redstone's statement, it was possible Redstone would move to remove Dauman as CEO.
Abrams, also a Viacom director, issued a statement in tandem with Dauman. His statement said:
"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. 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."