Ex-Viacom Finance VP Files Whistleblower Suit

Former FP&A exec says she was fired because she opposed a plan to transfer licensing rights overseas to avoid U.S. taxes.
Matthew HellerJanuary 5, 2016
Ex-Viacom Finance VP Files Whistleblower Suit

A former vice president of financial planning and analysis at Viacom accused the media giant on Tuesday of illegally firing her for opposing a plan to avoid U.S. taxes by transferring the international licensing rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Netherlands.

Nataki Williams said in a lawsuit filed in federal court that after she was promoted to vice president in 2010, she learned Viacom was “hatching a plan to attribute TMNT’s revenue to the Netherlands for tax purposes” and that the scheme evolved to include the rights to other children’s characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.

The company, she alleged, ignored her objections to the plan and ultimately terminated her in April 2014 on the pretext that she had made a fraudulent benefits claim.

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“Ms. Williams was actually fired in retaliation for her internal whistleblowing of an unlawful tax avoidance scheme that would have saved Viacom millions, and that Ms. Williams reasonably believed was fraudulent,” she said in her complaint, which includes claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank laws.

Viacom said Williams’ claims were “completely without merit, and we will vigorously defend against these claims in court.”

According to the suit, Viacom arranged for minor work on Ninja Turtles contracts to be done in the Netherlands so it would appear as though they were handled there. “In reality, all of the negotiating and legal work conducted around these contracts was happening in New York,” the suit said.

The plan stalled in 2010 because Ninja Turtles revenue “was relatively low” but was revived in 2013, Williams alleged.

Williams “experienced hostility when she opposed this proposed tax dodge, and was subjected to a transparently trumped up reason for her firing,” her lawyer Jason Rozger told Reuters. “That suggests the real reason she was fired was in retaliation for opposing something harmful to taxpayers and the company.”

According to her LinkedIn profile, Williams joined Viacom in November 2007 as a finance manager for its MTV Networks unit.