Jackson sued for 'reneging' on deal to perform Sheikh's songs

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The Independent Culture

The pop superstar Michael Jackson reneged on an agreement that he would perform songs written by an Arab sheikh who paid him $7m (£4.7m), the High Court has heard.

Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa – the second son of the King of Bahrain – is suing Jackson for the return of $7m which he claims he loaned to the singer who was in financial trouble in 2005 amid his criminal trial over child molestation charges.

He also says he set up Jackson with a recording studio at his Neverland ranch and then sent him his own compositions, one of which was recorded and is to be played to the court.

Jackson insists payments made by the sheikh were "gifts" and that there was no valid agreement between them which committed him to a recording contract, writing an autobiography and producing a musical stage play.

Bankim Thanki QC, representing Sheikh Abdulla, told Mr Justice Sweeney that the day after the end of Jackson's trial in California, the star recorded one of the compositions which the sheikh wanted released as a charity single to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami. "It shows the quality of Sheikh Abdulla's songwriting skills and that of Mr Jackson's voice," he told the judge.

The two had a "close personal relationship" and discussed the chances of Jackson moving to Bahrain to "continue their musical collaboration in a more conducive environment", said Mr Thanki. Sheikh Abdulla had plans to revive Jackson's career, releasing records through their own label.

Mr Thanki said the sheikh was first asked by an assistant of Jackson for $35,000 to pay utility bills at Neverland. "Sheikh Abdulla began to support Mr Jackson financially after 2005 when it became clear that Mr Jackson was in very serious financial difficulties, much to Sheikh Abdulla's surprise," said Mr Thanki. Sheikh Abdulla is suing Jackson for allegedly reneging on a "pay-back" agreement he says applies to all the money. He further claims he and Jackson entered into a "combined rights agreement" (CRA) over their musical collaboration.

At the start of the hearing in London, Mr Justice Sweeney heard that an application would be made for Jackson to give evidence via video link from Los Angeles. Jackson, who is contesting the claim, says Sheikh Abdulla's case is based on "mistake, misrepresentation and undue influence" and that no project was ever finalised. He admits he signed a document which he understood gave him a substantial shareholding in Sheikh Abdulla's 2 Seas recording company. But he challenges the sheikh's description of him as "an experienced businessman" and says he did not read the terms of the document.

Jackson claims the contract was entered into on the basis of "false representations" that the recording company was "capable of releasing and distributing, on a worldwide basis, recordings by an artist of international repute". He also alleges that Sheikh Abdulla, a powerful and influential public figure, exercised "undue influence" over him when he was emotionally exhausted after his criminal trial.

Jackson travelled to Bahrain at the sheikh's invitation following his acquittal. Among Sheikh Abdulla's complaints is that, despite his having paid the cost of Jackson recording a song called "I Have This Dream" – intended to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in August 2005 – the singer did not attend the studio for the final recording and the song was never released.

Sheikh Abdulla claims that both he and Jackson agreed the quality of his vocal track was not good enough for the single, but the star failed to attend the studios to re-record the song.

A DVD of the making of the recording of "I Have This Dream" in the Metropolis Studio was played in court. It showed screaming fans mobbing the star as he arrived, then Jackson singing a few lines from "I'm Into Something Good" and "Ferry 'Cross The Mersey" before trying a couple of lines from "I Have This Dream".

The hearing continues today.

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