Image: Universal Pictures
93-year-old billionaire and Viacom/CBS mogul Sumner Redstone isn't even dead yet, but the daggers are already out as claimants to his personal fortune and company assets embark upon a complex gauntlet of estate & trust litigation, corporate restructuring maneuvers and good old-fashioned recriminations.
Previously Redstone (with plenty of help from his legal team and daughter Shari) fended off charges of undue influence by former girlfriend Manuela Herzer, who fell out of the media kingpin's favor and was removed as a beneficiary from his will and advanced healthcare directive in October of 2015. Now it seems that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman is in the crosshairs, as Redstone announced that he's looking to replace Dauman and his team, thus making way for new leadership.
Redstone and his daughter Shari have had often-strained relations for long periods, but ever since Herzer & Co. were ejected from his inner circle last year, their legal and business decisions have been taken in lockstep. Shari is vice chair of Viacom's board, and while she claims a disinterested stance, it looks like she's moving to knock CEO Dauman out of commission and exert greater control over the company's future. The first step was made last month, when Redstone announced he was removing Dauman and another Viacom exec from National Amusements Inc. Trust, the Massachusetts-based holding entity to manage his 80% control of both Viacom and CBS.
Needless to say, Dauman and his Viacom colleagues are preparing for a fight. Just like the unlucky Herzer (who still seeks an appeal in Los Angeles County Superior Court), Dauman asserts that Redstone is incompetent and subject to Shari's undue influence. Curiously, when Herzer was pressing her case in litigation, Dauman, who at the time was on Redstone's advanced health care directive, claimed that his boss was hale and hearty. Today the shoe is on the other foot, however, and now that Dauman's found himself in the doghouse, those allegations of undue influence aren't looking half-bad.
In addition, Dauman is receiving some help from Redstone's granddaughter Keryn, who announced:
I will soon be announcing legal steps to join with the Viacom directors in our common cause to liberate my grandfather from Shari's clutches and protect my fellow trust beneficiaries and myself from her machinations.
Keryn, it should be noted, earlier also supported Herzer in her bid to get back on Redstone's health care directive and estate. That said, Shari's power play at Viacom looks to be legally well-founded - Delaware-incorporated National Amusements can change out the corporate board at any time. One thing is predictable in such a predicament - where there's money, misery and backstabbing, expect further litigation.