The son of an Arab monarch took the King of Pop to court Monday, charging that Michael Jackson took $7 million as an advance on an album and an autobiography that he never produced.
Lawyers for Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa say their client paid Jackson expenses as an advance on the book and joint recording project with the sheikh, who is an amateur songwriter. Jackson claims the money was a gift.
Al Khalifa, 33, was due to testify at London's Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday. Jackson's lawyer Robert Englehart said he was seeking permission to have Jackson testify by video link from Los Angeles.
A lawyer for Al Khalifa said the royal first spoke to Jackson, 50, by telephone while the singer was on trial in California following his 2003 arrest on child molestation charges. Attorney Bankim Thanki said that Al Khalifa wanted to work with Jackson on rebuilding his career. Jackson's finances fell apart after his arrest and he was desperately short of cash.
Al Khalifa's first payment, for $35,000, went toward paying the utility bills at Neverland, Jackson's 2,500-acre (1,000 hectare) ranch and miniature amusement park in California, Thanki said. When Jackson was found innocent of the molestation charges in June 2005, Al Khalifa footed $2.2 million in legal bills, the lawyer said.
Al Khalifa said he believed the money would be repaid once Jackson's career recovered from the damaging trial.
"I saw the payment as an investment in Michael's potential," the sheikh said in a statement read out by his lawyer in court. "He said he would pay me back ... through our work together."
Al Khalifa moved Jackson and his entourage to Bahrain almost immediately after the trial, setting up a recording studio for him in Manama, the Gulf state's capital. The sheikh, who is the governor of Bahrain's Southern Province, supplied Jackson with $500,000 in cash to subsidize his lifestyle and splashed out on a $350,000 European vacation for Jackson and his associates in February of 2006, Thanki said.
"The costs even included the expenses of bringing out Mr. Jackson's hairdresser," he said.
The lawyer said Jackson and the sheikh became close friends and at one time both lived in a palace in Abu Dhabi owned by Al Khalifa's father, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain's king. The singer stayed nearly a year in Bahrain as a guest of the son, but the relationship soured when Jackson repudiated a business deal Thanki said they had agreed to.
Jackson's lawyers say the pair never entered a valid agreement and that Al Khalifa's money was given freely.
Thanki acknowledged that Al Khalifa gave some gifts to Jackson but said that most of what the singer received was part of a business deal.
The gifts, he said, "were essentially personal effects - watches, jewelry."
Thanki said the sheik was wealthy but that paying Jackson's bills had taken a big bite out of his finances.
"Some of the payments were staggering by any standards," Thanki said, saying the expenditure "should not be regarded as loose change for my client."
As for Jackson, he still appears to be in difficult financial straits.
Last week, he was forced to give up the deed on Neverland, which is named for the mythical land of Peter Pan.
The trial is being held in London because the parties had agreed to take any disputes over their deal to an English court, Al Khalifa's representatives said. The trial is due to wrap up by the end of the month.
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