'It's close to midnight...' Jackson on verge of losing ranch and song rights

The singer's $330m debts could result in the forced sale of Neverland and his half of the Beatles catalogue
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The Independent Online

Michael Jackson faces the forced sale of the Neverland Ranch and his half of the Beatles song catalogue unless he can come up with a repayment of some of the money he owes to a hedge fund by Tuesday.

Jackson, 47, who has debts of $339m (£191m), must repay the New York-based Fortress Investments, the firm of "distressed debt" specialists that acquired Jackson's $270m loan from Bank of America in May after the singer reportedly failed to make a $350,000 repayment the previous month.

Jackson also missed a payment to Fortress in October, prompting a rescheduling of the debt until Tuesday.

Unless he finds the cash, Fortress may move against the assets, which secure the loan. At stake is Jackson's half of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalogue of 300,000 songs - including more than 200 Beatles songs - bought in its entirety in 1985 for $47.5m, which earns him $75m a year.

Also at risk is Jackson's publishing company Mijac, which owns the rights to his own songs and to music by Elvis Presley, Sly and the Family Stone and others, against which the singer has borrowed $69m.

He may also be obliged to sell the 2,700-acre Neverland Ranch outside Santa Barbara, California, complete with zoo animals, a funfair and annual running costs of $5m.

Already put on the market by Jackson is the Hayvenhurst mansion in Encino, California, which he bought in the 1970s for his mother Katherine.

The singer has failed to keep up mortgage repayments on a $2.2m loan he took out against the Encino property, and his mother, and brothers Randy and Jermaine, have reportedly been told they must leave by next month.

Jackson and his children have been staying in Bahrain as a guest of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Khalifa since the singer was acquitted of child sex charges in June. The singer has no intention of returning to America and is described by his lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, as "permanently living outside of the United States".

According to court testimony, Jackson is outspending income by up to $30m a year, and Myong-Ho Lee, his former financial adviser, described his finances as "a ticking time bomb".

His half of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalogue, which he shares with Sony/BMG Music Entertainment, is worth at least $500m, and Mijac, which he wholly owns, is valued at $150m.

Estate agents say Jackson's Neverland ranch, bought for $17m in 1988, would fetch $55m.

But Jackson's financial woes are complicated by the terms of the Beatles catalogue deal with Sony, which ends this month. Sony has the right to buy Jackson's half of the catalogue from him for $200m unless he repays the loan or finds another buyer.

Fortress is certain to step in if Jackson's ownership of the lucrative Beatles library is put at risk, and may demand that the catalogue be transferred to it.

Nor do Jackson's financial woes stop there. On top of the $10m in legal bills from his child sex trial, his former manager, Dieter Wiesner, claims Jackson owes him $64m for selling merchandising rights that he wasn't entitled to.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Jackson's former business partner, Frederic Marc Schaffel, claims he is owed $2m for loans made to Jackson, as well as $800,000 for producing two Jackson television shows in 2003. The singer is countersuing.

Jackson is also suing Marcel Avram, a former manager who won compensation from the singer for not performing at two concerts on New Year's Eve 2001, and he must defend himself against a further breach-of-contract suit brought by a refinancing firm.

In an effort to drum up cash quickly, Jackson is reissuing all 20 of his singles in the UK, with the releases coming one week apart. The first, "Thriller", hits the shops on 23 January.

Over his career, the pop star has earnt around $500m, including $100m from concerts, $30m from endorsements, $20m from video sales and $25m from merchandise. At the peak of his popularity, he took home $50m a year.

His latest album, Invincible, cost him $25m to produce, on top of $5m provided by Sony, but the record failed to take off. In eight months, it sold just six million worldwide, returning him only $15m.

This compares with his mega-hit album Thriller, which made him a massive $115m. Bad and Dangerous both earnt him $47.5m, and HIStory made $35m.

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