Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch sold at discount

LOS ANGELES • Michael Jackson's former Neverland Ranch in California has reportedly been sold to American billionaire Ron Burkle at a steeply discounted price of around US$22 million (S$29 million).

The late "King of Pop" famously converted his sprawling gated home into a fairy tale-themed retreat - complete with toy railroad, Ferris wheel and orangutans - and penned some of his top hits on the ranch.

But Neverland was also the infamous location where Jackson invited children to visit and sleep over, and where he was accused of molesting young boys.

It was rebranded as Sycamore Valley Ranch after Jackson died at 50 in 2009.

Mr Burkle, a Montana-based businessman with investments ranging from supermarkets to the entertainment industry, purchased the ranch "as a land banking opportunity", his spokesman said.

The US$22 million price tag reported by the Wall Street Journal - and confirmed to Agence France-Presse as roughly accurate by a source familiar with the deal - would mark a dramatic decline from the ranch's US$100 million asking price in 2015.

That lofty fee, dubbed optimistic by realtors even at the time, was slashed to US$31 million last year, but the ranch still did not sell and was taken off the market.

Mr Burkle was flying in the region recently to scout a neighbouring property as a possible new branch of his Soho House private club network when he spotted the ranch and called its owner, according to the spokesman.

Jackson had reportedly paid US$19.5 million for the property in the 1980s. Real estate investor Thomas Barrack Jr's Colony Capital investment firm purchased the ranch from the heavily indebted singer for US$22.5 million in the year before his death.

Mr Burkle previously worked as an adviser for the singer on business matters, including resolving debts incurred by his lavish lifestyle in the years before his death.

The 1,100ha estate, located 65km from Santa Barbara, features a main house with six bedrooms along with three guest houses, a 1.6ha lake with a waterfall, tennis courts, several barns and animal shelter facilities.

Jackson's ranch was raided in 2003 as part of a child molestation case against him. Police at the time seized a large collection of pornography and images of nude children. He was acquitted in 2005.

Last year, HBO documentary Leaving Neverland aired testimonies of two men who claimed Jackson had sexually abused them as children in rooms all over the ranch.

The Jackson estate - which is suing HBO for US$100 million over a "posthumous character assassination" - denies all the allegations, as Jackson did in his lifetime.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2020, with the headline 'Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch sold at discount'. Subscribe