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In the intensifying war over the future of Viacom and CBS, Sumner Redstone has released a statement refuting allegations from Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman and other Viacom board members that the mogul’s daughter Shari, 62, has isolated him in a bid to seize control of his media empire.
In remarks released through spokesman Mike Lawrence, Redstone rejected what he called Dauman’s “opportunistic claims” that he is incapacitated. The statement said, “Sumner Redstone remains today as Phillippe Dauman described him less than six months ago: ‘engaged, attentive, and as opinionated as ever.'”
The statement also asserts that the frail 92-year-old mogul opposes the sale of a stake in Paramount Pictures, a deal that Dauman had said he intended to execute in the next few weeks.
After Dauman was dismissed on Friday from the board of Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. and the trust that will control the fates of CBS and Viacom when Sumner is out of the picture, Dauman alleged that Shari Redstone was engaged in “a shameful effort” to take control of her father’s $40 billion businesses. Also dismissed from the NAI board and trust was Redstone’s longtime counsel, George Abrams, 83, though he remains on the Viacom board.
Redstone’s statement came in response to a pair of statements on Saturday from Abrams and another Viacom director, Frederic Salerno, 72. Abrams said, “The Sumner Redstone I knew would never have taken this action.” Salerno said the board recently discontinued Sumner’s compensation based on his “silence during recent board meetings, as well as recent public disclosures raising concerns about his health.” Salerno also said he had been denied access to Redstone.
In the statement released Sunday, Redstone’s spokesman responded, “As Viacom knows well, Mr. Redstone has significant speech impairment and, for much of the past two years, has not relied on verbal statements at board meetings to make his opinion known.” The statement said Sumner had sent a May 16 letter to Dauman, Abrams and Salerno requesting a briefing on plans to improve Viacom’s stock price but received no response. Due to Viacom’s subsequent “false and unfair statements to the media,” Redstone said he would not have any direct meetings with the three.
Separately, The New York Times cited sources saying new trust members would include Thaddeus Jankowski, senior vp and general counsel of National Amusements; an unnamed friend of Shari Redstone’s; and Shari’s daughter, Kimberlee Ostheimer. Her son Tyler Korff already serves on the trust, as does Leonard L. Lewin, the divorce lawyer for Shari’s mother; David R. Andelman, a CBS director; and Norman I. Jacobs, a lawyer who has represented Sumner.
The full statement:
Sumner Redstone would like to correct some false and unfair information issued this weekend in a statement from Viacom.
Access to Sumner Redstone by Viacom’s Board of Directors
Viacom’s claim that members of the board have been “denied access” to Sumner Redstone is untrue. In a letter sent on May 16 by his counsel to Viacom’s CEO Phillippe Dauman and board members George Abrams and Frederic Salerno, Mr. Redstone asked to be briefed concerning management’s plans for improving Viacom’s business outlook and share price. This was an opportunity for direct engagement, but the board leadership did not respond. Instead, Viacom criticized Mr. Redstone for not speaking while participating by phone in a board meeting that followed. As Viacom knows well, Mr. Redstone has significant speech impairment and, for much of the past two years, has not relied on verbal statements at board meeting to make his opinion known.
Independence of Mr. Redstone
Viacom’s statement claimed that Shari Redstone has “isolated” her father, putting his residence “on lockdown.” These claims are false as well. Over the past several days alone, Mr. Redstone has hosted family and friends at his home, and met with several attorneys and an executive from National Amusements. He also visited his grandson’s home to watch a baseball game and is looking forward to celebrating his birthday with family later this week.
Viacom implied Shari Redstone played a role in choosing Mr. Redstone’s legal counsel. That statement is false. In fact, neither that counsel nor his firm has ever before represented any member of the Redstone family. The counsel was recommended to Mr. Redstone by his existing lawyers, and Mr. Redstone has met with and is working closely with his new counsel.
Sumner Redstone remains today as Phillippe Dauman described him less than six months ago: “engaged, attentive, and as opinionated as ever.” He removed Mr. Dauman and George Abrams as trustees of the Sumner M. Redstone National Amusements Trust and as directors of National Amusements, Inc. based on what Mr. Redstone believes are the best interests of beneficiaries and shareholders.
Viacom’s false and unfair statements to the media, as well as Mr. Dauman’s opportunistic claims of incapacity, now make it problematic to move forward with any direct meeting and briefing as Mr. Redstone had previously requested. However, Mr. Redstone remains intent on receiving the briefing through his advisers — a request that still has not been responded to despite Mr. Redstone’s rights as a director.
Unless Viacom’s board presents a concrete plan that convinces him otherwise, Mr. Redstone continues to believe that it is in the best interest of Viacom that Paramount Pictures should remain wholly owned by the parent company.
Mr. Redstone regrets that Mr. Dauman has diverted resources to these baseless attacks and misrepresentations, rather than focusing on the continuing challenges that are faced by Viacom. Mr. Redstone will continue to act in what he believes are the best interest of Viacom’s shareholders.
May 22, 6:42 p.m: A Viacom spokesperson responded: “We continue to be deeply troubled and saddened by this state of affairs. We have the deepest respect for Sumner Redstone, but it is clear he is being shamefully manipulated. The facts are clear. Viacom’s 12-hour strategy meetings on May 17 and 18, that Sumner attended by phone, addressed all issues, including Paramount, to the satisfaction of all the independent directors. Despite numerous requests, Lead Independent Director Fred Salerno and a fellow board member, who represent all shareholders, have still been unable to meet with Mr. Redstone. The Sumner Redstone we knew would never refuse a meeting about his businesses and he certainly would not want advisors to stand in for him. Mr. Salerno and his fellow Directors remain willing and eager to meet with Sumner at any time.”
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