Image: Warner Bros.
The drama swirling around the fate of media magnate Sumner Redstone's multibillion-dollar fortune and the future of his business shows no signs of abating as a new round of trust litigation has kicked in. Redstone, the ailing 92-year old entertainment kingpin behind companies like CBS, Viacom and Paramount Pictures, has had his health and mental condition come under increasing scrutiny as he's made drastic decisions on his estate plan over the past year, decisions that affect direction of his corporate empire.
Fresh off of a legal victory in convincing Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Cowan to throw out former girlfriend Manuela Herzer's bid to be reinstated as his primary caregiver, Redstone swiftly moved to oust Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman from a directorship position in his family trust. Dauman is hitting back, however, alleging that his boss's deteriorated neurological state is being exploited by Redstone's daughter Shari in a not-so-stealthy corporate takeover.
It was last Friday when Redstone ordered Dauman and Viacom colleague George Abrams, the mogul's longtime friend, removed from the Sumner Murray Redstone National Amusements Inc. Trust, the Massachusetts-based holding vehicle for the tycoon's 80% control of shares at both Viacom and CBS. Dauman and Abrams then quickly brought forward a lawsuit in Norfolk, MA, probate court, charging that 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...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 longtime business colleagues."
Interestingly, the accusations that Dauman has filed - concerning daughter Shari's undue influence on Redstone - are very similar to the claims of undue influence made by Manuela Herzer against both Shari and Dauman in her recent unsuccessful attempt to regain primary caregiver status on the media mogul's advanced health care directive. So while the Viacom CEO denied claims he was in any way manipulating Redstone, just a short time later he's alleging that Shari is indeed working the levers of undue influence on her father to gain dominant position over National Amusements.
Redstone's reasoning for removing Dauman from his trust supposedly amounts to his "loss of trust" in the Viacom exec, whose search for investors into Paramount Pictures was viewed with displeasure. Now Redstone's attorneys want the decisions made in his Massachusetts trust granted the legal stamp of approval in California, making it tougher for Dauman to gain any traction in litigation efforts. As it stands, this might only be the start of a nasty war for Redstone's billions.