Jackson acknowledges payouts to at least two kids. He says he would ''never harm a child'' but settled out of court with accusers to avoid publicity of a trial

By Gary Susman
September 04, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Michael Jackson: Brendan McDermid, Pool/Ap

On Friday, just before NBC’s ”Dateline” aired a report that there was more than one boy to whom Michael Jackson had paid a multimillion-dollar settlement in response to child-molestation allegations, the pop star issued a statement confirming that he has paid out a number of such settlements in order to avoid the publicity of a trial. However, he insisted that none of the charges was true, and that he would ”never harm a child.”

Allegations against Jackson first surfaced in 1993, when a boy accused the singer of molesting him on several occasions. Jackson settled with the boy for a sum reportedly as high as $20 million, after which the boy declined to press criminal charges. According to ”Dateline,” another boy, the son of a Neverland employee, claimed three years earlier that Jackson had fondled him through his clothes. Jackson paid him a reported $2 million, and as with the later boy, criminal charges were never filed against the singer.

Jackson’s statement on Friday indicated that he paid at least two such settlements; as in 1993, he denied any wrongdoing but said he settled in order to avoid an ugly public trial. ”Years ago, I settled with certain individuals because I was concerned about my family and the media scrutiny that would have ensued if I fought the matter in court,” Jackson said. ”These people wanted to exploit my concern for children by threatening to destroy what I believe in and what I do. I have been a vulnerable target for those who want money.” He added, ”I have spent my entire life helping millions of children across the world. I would never harm a child. It is unfortunate that some individuals have seen fit to come forward and make a complaint that is completely false.”

Jackson, of course, faces similar charges, this time in a criminal court, that he molested a boy in 2003. While there is a gag order preventing him from discussing details of that case, which goes to trial in January, he said he saw a connection between his current legal battle and the disclosure of the 1990 accusation. ”Quite frankly, I question the timing and motive of this report,” he said. ”I look forward to the day when I will be vindicated by a jury of my peers. Maybe then, these reports will come to an end.”