09/07/2004 at 08:00 AM EDT
Michael Jackson has acknowledged that he paid $2 million in 1990 to settle another child-molestation accusation – this time made by the son of a former Neverland Ranch employee. But he denies any wrongdoing and says he reached financial settlements only to avoid the embarrassment of going to court.
Following Friday's Dateline NBC report about the payoff, Jackson released a six-paragraph statement confirming the settlement, but said he "would never harm a child."
"I have spent my entire life helping millions of children across the world," said Jackson, 46, who is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 31 on charges of committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent, and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. "It is unfortunate that some individuals have seen fit to come forward and make a complaint that is completely false."
Although his statement on Friday made no direct reference to Dateline, Jackson said he felt the need to "respond to untruths and sensationalism" and questioned "the timing and motive of this report," says the Associated Press.
"Years ago, I settled with certain individuals because I was concerned about my family and the media scrutiny that would have ensued if I fought the matter in court," Jackson said. "These people wanted to exploit my concern for children by threatening to destroy what I believe in and what I do. I have been a vulnerable target for those who want money."
Jackson also was being investigated by Santa Barbara County authorities in 1993 when he reached a settlement with another accuser, paying him a sum reported at $15 million to $20 million. He was never charged in that case.
In the current case, Jackson has pleaded not guilty and remains free on $3 million bail, which the judge in the case refused to reduce last week, saying that Jackson's vast fortune makes him a possible flight risk.