Jackson, 45, on Thursday turned himself in to police in the California city of Santa Barbara, which lies near his Neverland Ranch, two days after an arrest warrant was issued on charges that could see him jailed for years.

"Michael Jackson was taken into custody at 12:05pm (20:05 GMT) at Santa Barbara airport," Sheriff Jim Anderson said.

The black-clad superstar was taken into custody by sheriffs deputies moments after flying in on a private jet. He was driven to the local jail and taken inside with his hands cuffed behind his back.

But he emerged after less than an hour waving with one hand and flashing a two-fingered V salute and thumbs-up signs to a clutch of screaming fans who had gathered to catch a glimpse of the star.

Booked

He was booked on multiple counts of "lewd and lascivious behaviour" with a child under the age of 14. Each charge carries a jail sentence of up to eight years.

Jackson (R) has described claims
against him as 'a big lie'

Like all suspects, Jackson was fingerprinted and had a disturbing mugshot taken. He also surrendered his passport to authorities.

Through his lawyer and publicist, Jackson branded the accusations a "big lie" and was released after stumping up $3 million for his bond. He immediately flew back to Las Vegas from where he had just arrived.

There, he was reunited with his three young children, who were brought on board his plane with their heads covered by blankets. Prosecutors said it was up to a juvenile court to decide whether the singer will be allowed retain custody of his children.

Crowds

The family then braved a crowd of television cameras, fans and autograph seekers as they drove through slow traffic to a luxury hotel and casino resort.

Hundreds of reporters and photographers had earlier swarmed Santa Barbara airport and its sheriff's department as Jackson's plane landed. It parked with its nose and door in a hangar to allow him to give himself up to waiting police.

The entertainer's first court hearing was scheduled for 9 January in Santa Barbara.

Jackson, who police said cooperated during the 30-45 minute booking, said through aides he was "outraged" by the charges and vowed to fight them in court.