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Viacom CEO says Sumner Redstone, who controls the company, can't communicate

Philippe Dauman has filed a suit against Redstone's daughter, saying she manipulated her father into removing him from the family trust.

Sumner Redstone
Sumner Redstone
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

For years Viacom has engaged in its own bit of theater, never fully addressing whether Sumner Redstone, the ailing 92-year-old billionaire who controls the company, could competently manage the $16 billion conglomerate that owns MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount.

Redstone, once a regular and colorful presence on company earnings calls, hadn't been seen in public for a year, and a recent glimpse showed he has trouble talking.

Now, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman says Redstone has had dementia and, as recently as March, could barely communicate.

Indeed, during the first week of March, Mr. Dauman visited Mr. Redstone and Mr. Redstone appeared almost totally non-responsive, and could not meaningfully communicate at all.

That comes from a complaint Dauman filed today in family probate court in Massachusetts. The CEO is asking a judge to nullify his removal from the trust that stands to inherit Redstone's voting shares once he dies or is declared incompetent.

It's also particularly interesting since Dauman said as recently as November that Redstone was "engaged, attentive and opinionated as ever":

Sumner and I spoke about business matters, including the upcoming Viacom board meeting....Sumner asked me to send regards to various people, and I updated him on the regards others have asked me to pass along to him. We talked about the conference at which I would be speaking the following morning, and we reminisced about corporate history and personal matters....On both occasions, he was engaged, attentive and opinionated as ever.

Redstone, who turns 93 on Friday, owns 80 percent of the voting shares in both Viacom and CBS, two companies worth over $40 billion and that together employ over 25,000 people. That's what's at stake in what has turned into a fascinating all-out war over who will control one of the last family-owned empires in the country.

More immediately, Dauman's tenure has come under threat from Redstone's daughter, Shari, whom he claims had manipulated her father and was behind his removal from the trust. If true, that would be reminiscent of the kind of ruthless maneuvering that often characterized her father.

Here's the full complaint:

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