Jackson is also accused of giving the boy, who is not identified in court papers, an "intoxicating agent" in order to make it easier to molest him. 

The self-declared "King of Pop," who was arrested on suspicion of child molestation last month and released on $3 million bail, was not present when the charges were unsealed at a courthouse in Santa Maria, central California, near his Neverland Valley Ranch. 

If found guilty, Jackson could face about 20 years in prison. He would also be forced to register as a sex offender under California law. 

Defence

The pop icon's lawyer on Thursday said Jackson is "unequivocally and absolutely" innocent of the charges of child molestation filed against him and will fight them with "every fibre of his soul."

"I can tell you right now, categorically, based up this complaint that has been filed, that Michael Jackson is unequivocally and absolutely innocent of these charges," Mark Geragos told reporters.

"Michael Jackson is here, ensconced, ready to fight. He's not
running, he's not hiding. He knows that these charges are completely and wholly unfounded." 

Jackson's lawyer says the star will
fight with "every fibre of his soul"

He said the superstar's accusers were attempting to extort money from him while investigators in Santa Barbara, who attempted to prosecute him over another case of alleged child abuse in 1993, held a grudge against him. 

"Anyone who knows anything about the history of these accusers, anybody who knows anything about the history of the investigators and the axes they have to grind," knows that they are "driven by two things: money and revenge," the lawyer claimed. 

No delay

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who has been portrayed in the press as Jackson's nemesis, announced the charges at a press conference in which he denied media speculation that he delayed filing the charges in order to buttress a weak case. 

"Michael Jackson is here, ensconced, ready to fight. He's not running, he's not hiding. He knows that these charges are completely and wholly unfounded."

Mark Geragos, Michael Jackson's lawyer

"I want to categorically say that is false," Sneddon said. "That was never, never, never the intent of our office." Sneddon also dismissed a memo by a Los Angeles County child welfare agency clearing Jackson of similar charges, saying that it was based on a single interview and not expected to impact the Santa Barbara case. 

"To call that an investigation is a misnomer," Sneddon said. "It was an interview, plain and simple, and we are not concerned about it." 


Off to  England

The 45-year-old entertainer was expected to be at Neverland
on Saturday night for a party with friends and family members
who wanted to lend him support, Jackson spokesman Stuart
Backerman said.

Jackson showed a reporter around
his Neverland ranch in February

Jackson then planned to travel to England for a vacation, Backerman said. Jackson's lawyers arranged with prosecutors for the return of his passport that was confiscated at the time of his arrest.

Jackson, who survived a similar brush with the law 10 years ago by making a multimillion dollar out-of-court settlement with the family of a teenage boy, has protested his innocence. 

He set up a Web site in November calling the current allegations a "big lie," but he has remained out of the public eye. His lawyers have accused the alleged victim and his family of trying to make money out of Jackson.

Four weeks of media leaks and investigative reporting have traced the latest allegations back to a British television documentary broadcast in both Britain and the United States in February.

Jackson showed a British reporter around his Neverland ranch, described himself as "Peter Pan", the boy who never grew up,  and talked of having sleepovers with young boys.

Jackson insisted, however, that there was nothing sexual in those encounters, which he viewed as an innocent form of his professed affection for children.