Michael Jackson’s former personal assistant told a British court Friday that a Bahraini sheik who is now suing the singer was a generous friend, eager to give Jackson money and other gifts.
Grace Rwaramba said Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa referred to Jackson as his brother and frequently offered the singer gifts and money.
“He would say, ‘What can I do for my brother? What can I give the children?”’ Rwaramba said. “Mr. Jackson had a back pain and he told me to get Tiger Balm for him.”
Rwaramba, who also was nanny to Jackson’s three children, said she considered the sheik’s behavior “sweet.”
She was testifying as a defense witness in a $7 million lawsuit brought against Jackson by Al Khalifa, the second son of the king of Bahrain. The sheik says Jackson reneged on a contract to produce an album, a candid autobiography and a stage play after accepting millions in advances. Jackson claims the money was a gift.
The money at issue includes sums of $35,000 and $1 million paid into Rwaramba’s bank account by the sheik. Rwaramba said the money was intended for Jackson, who did not have a bank account of his own.
Rwaramba said she was “flabbergasted” when she received the first payment of $35,000, which she considered a large sum.
The court heard that Al Khalifa paid for hotel rooms for Jackson and his entourage and trips to Toys R Us to buy Christmas presents for the singer’s guests.
Rwaramba said the sheik never suggested any of money would have to be paid back.
Jackson, 50, and the 33-year-old sheik first made contact when the King of Pop was fending off accusations of child molestation in California and Al Khalifa offered to help him. Once Jackson was cleared of the charges in June 2005, Al Khalifa invited him to the small, oil-rich Gulf state to escape the media spotlight.
Al Khalifa says he gave Jackson millions of dollars in all to help shore up his finances and subsidize Jackson’s lifestyle in Bahrain — including more than $300,000 for a “motivational guru.”
Al Khalifa, an amateur songwriter, says the pair even moved into the same palace to work on music together.
But Jackson dropped the project in 2006, leaving Bahrain and pulling out of the contract. Jackson’s lawyers are arguing that the musician wasn’t bound by the deal because the contract was signed on behalf of 2 Seas Records, a venture which never got off the ground.
Jackson is due to take the witness stand at London’s High Court on Monday. His lawyers had asked for him to give evidence by video link from the U.S., citing an unspecified medical condition.
But lawyer Robert Englehart told the judge on Thursday that Jackson’s doctors had cleared him to travel.