Redstone's granddaughter says she backs Viacom's directors

Sumner Redstone in Los Angeles December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo (Reuters)
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  • Sumner Redstone
    American businessman and media magnate (1923-2020)
  • Shari Redstone
    American businesswoman

By Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) - Sumner Redstone's granddaughter Keryn said on Wednesday she plans to support the independent directors of Viacom Inc to help free the 93-year-old media mogul from the "clutches" of his daughter, Shari.

The independent directors have questioned Sumner Redstone's mental competence, and said they will legally contest any move by his purported representatives to remove them from Viacom's board.

"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 Redstone said in a statement issued by attorney Pierce O'Donnell, who also represents Sumner Redstone's ex-girlfriend Manuela Herzer.

Herzer had challenged Redstone's mental competence after she was ejected from his mansion last October. She had sought to be reinstated as his designated healthcare agent, but a Los Angeles judge dismissed that case in May. Herzer's lawyers have said she planned to appeal the decision.

Keryn Redstone, who supported Herzer's lawsuit, said in her statement that she affectionately called her grandfather "Grumpy." She said the last time she saw him was for 15 minutes on Valentine's Day, and described how she "quietly sobbed" as she held his "cold hand."

"As he sat there lifeless and flanked by his nurses and caretakers, he seemed unaware of his surroundings," Keryn Redstone said.

She added, "I cry myself to sleep every night knowing that I might never see him again."

She said she was prevented from seeing him again by her aunt, Shari Redstone, who is vice chair of Viacom's board.

A spokeswoman for Shari Redstone had no comment. She had previously denied allegations that she was manipulating her father. "Shari has made it abundantly clear that she has no desire to manage Viacom nor chair its board," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

Sumner Redstone, in a statement issued last week by his spokesman, said he was considering replacing Viacom's chief executive, Philippe Dauman, and its board of directors.

Legal experts said Dauman and the directors would face a tough legal battle to prevent their ouster because Redstone's National Amusements Inc (NAI) had the ability to immediately remove Viacom's board at any time under Delaware law.

NAI controls 80 percent of the voting shares in Viacom and CBS Corp. Earlier in May, Redstone ejected Dauman and a Viacom board member from the seven-person trust that will control the voting shares after Redstone's exit.

Shares of Viacom have lost about half their value in the past two years as its cable networks, including MTV and Nickelodeon, suffered from falling ratings because younger viewers were migrating online and to mobile video.

The shares have risen about 14 percent since Redstone removed Dauman from the trust on May 20, a move that some investors saw as the first step in a change in management that could eventually lead to a sale of the media company.

Dauman, 62, has filed a legal challenge to stop his removal from the trust, arguing that Redstone was being manipulated by his daughter. A trial date for the suit was set for October, but Dauman filed a motion to expedite the trial. A hearing on the expedition was scheduled for June 7.

Sumner Redstone last week asked a Los Angeles court for an order to validate his removal of Dauman and Abrams from the trust and from the board of NAI.

Redstone is expected to file a motion this week to oppose the expedited trial and ask for the issue to be handled by the Los Angeles court, a source on Redstone's strategy team told Reuters.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

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