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Gary Younge
Michael Jackson on abuse charge

The charges of "lewd or lascivious acts" claim that there was "substantial sexual contact" between the pop star and the unnamed teenage boy in February and March this year.

Mr Jackson was also charged on two counts of intoxicating the victim "with the purposes of committing a felony".

The drama is set to shift to Britain after prosecutors agreed to allow the singer's passport to be returned for him to travel here in the next two weeks. His lawyers said he had obligations to promote his CD.

It is unclear what those obligations are. A spokesman for the 45-year-old performer told journalists he was coming on holiday. Tom Sneddon, the district attorney of Santa Barbara county, California, said he had no reason to believe that Mr Jackson was contemplating fleeing the trial.

The charges were believed to involve a boy, now 14, who appeared holding hands with Mr Jackson in a BBC documentary by Martin Bashir. The singer said the two had slept in the same bedroom but not in the same bed.

The singer, who has denied the charges as a "big lie", is on a $3m (£1.7m) bail after his arrest nearly a month ago following a search of his Neverland estate. His whereabouts yesterday was unknown but caterers were seen arriving at his home apparently to prepare for a party.

Mr Jackson faced similar accusations a decade ago, but settled the case out of court, reputedly paying the accuser's family up to $20m.

It has emerged that similar allegations concerning the boy in the new allegations were found to be "unfounded" in February. A memo published on the Smoking Gun website revealed that police and child agencies had decided they were not worth pursuing.

Mr Jackson, the biggest charity donor in the pop music business, has been shunned by beneficiaries. The week after his arrest, his former school in Los Angeles, to whom he gave money for a new auditorium, covered up his name for fear that association would bring "unwarranted attention".

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