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Michael Jackson reaches refinancing deal

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Apr 14 (Reuters) Pop star Michael Jackson, in a bid to stave off insolvency, said he has reached a deal with creditors to refinance more than 200 million dollars in loans secured by his prized stake in the Beatles' song catalog.

The loans, which formally came due in December 2005, are held by the Fortress Investment Group, a New York private equity fund that stood to gain Jackson's 50 per cent interest in Beatles publishing rights, valued at some 500 million dollars, in the event of a default.

A statement issued from Jackson's representatives in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, where he currently resides, said the singer has ''restructured his finances'' with help from Sony Corp, which jointly owns the collection of more than 200 Beatles tunes through Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

It also said Citigroup bank ''structured the transaction for the parties.'' But terms of the new financing deal were not disclosed, and it was not immediately clear whether Jackson was forced to give up any of his stake in the song catalog.

The New York Times, citing sources briefed on the refinancing negotiations, reported earlier that Jackson would agree to provide Sony with an option to buy about 25 per cent of the catalog, or half of his stake, at a set price.

Sony's interest in keeping Jackson solvent stems from its desire to avoid a default that would allow his stake in the publishing venture to go up for auction, and the possibility of another company bidding on it. Sony representatives were not immediately available for comment.

According to prosecution testimony during his trial on sex abuse charges last year, Jackson had borrowed heavily against his assets, including more than 200 million dollars secured by his share in Sony/ATV. Those loans, first provided by Bank of America Corp., were later sold to Fortress.

Jackson was acquitted by a jury last June of all charges stemming from accusations made by a teen-age boy that he had been molested by Jackson at his Neverland Valley Ranch in central California.

Rights to the Beatles music passed to the conglomerate ATV through its purchase of the band's publishing company, Northern Songs, in 1969.

Jackson in turn acquired the 4,000-song catalog, including the Beatles titles, when he bought ATV from the late Australian tycoon Robert Holmes a Court in August 1985. Ten years later, Jackson cut his stake in the catalog to 50 per cent after merging ATV with Sony's publishing. Jackson also kept a 50 per cent stage in new songs added to the collection.

The Sony/ATV catalog also includes songs like Bob Dylan's classic ''Blowin' in the Wind'' and the works of such artists as Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. But the Beatles' rights account for an estimated two-thirds of the collection's value.

Industry experts say the catalog is one of the most treasured in the world, especially since the recent explosion in music licensing ranging from movies and television ads to cell phone ringtones and video games.

REUTERS DH BD0447

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