Sumner Redstone moves to oust five Viacom directors including CEO from board
By Jessica Toonkel and Dan Levine
NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Sumner Redstone removed five of Viacom Inc's (VIAB.O: Quote) directors, including Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, from the board of the media company he controls on Thursday, a big step toward a potential management shake-up of the almost $20 billion company.
Dauman remains CEO for now and he and the other four will stay on the board until a Delaware court affirms the changes, but the move could be a prelude to the 93-year-old media mogul forcing Dauman out of the company entirely.
Viacom's independent lead director Fred Salerno, one of the board members Redstone removed, shot back with his own lawsuit on Thursday in the same Delaware court to block the move, calling it "invalid" and the result of Redstone's daughter Shari Redstone manipulating her father.
The latest developments ratchet up the wrangling for control over Redstone's $40 billion empire, amid questions over whether the magnate is making his own decisions or is even of sound enough mind to do so.
Salerno's lawsuit asserts that Redstone's daughter, Shari Redstone, is behind the latest move. "Shari now seeks to become Mr. Redstone’s puppet master, pulling his strings behind the scenes to improperly seize control of Viacom," it states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Shari Redstone told Salerno in a phone call of her plan to remove members of the Viacom board that she thought did not support her, but would be willing to keep Salerno in place if he supported her.
Salerno, according to the lawsuit, "promptly informed Viacom’s Governance and Nominating Committee about Shari’s threat." Shari Redstone declined to comment.