Michael Jackson took the stand Wednesday to defend himself against a concert promoter's lawsuit accusing him of fraud and breach of contract.
Marcel Avram, a European concert promoter who has worked with Jackson since 1972, filed suit in June 2000, claiming the singer cost him $21 million when he allegedly abandoned plans to perform two millennium concerts on both sides of the international date line (see "Michael Jackson Schedules Two New Year's Eve Shows?").
Jackson's testimony by midday was brief, limited to "yes" and "no" answers. The trial, which got under way at the Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria, California, on Tuesday, found Avram's and Jackson's attorneys using their opening statements to blame each other for the concert cancellations.
Attorney Louis "Skip" Miller told the court that Avram was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses after Jackson backed out of the shows. Jackson attorney Zia Modabber countered by saying Avram wanted out of the shows after two charity concerts also involving Jackson failed to make a profit. Those shows were held in Seoul, South Korea, and Munich, Germany, in June 1999 (see "Slash, Scorpions, Others Scheduled For 'Michael Jackson & Friends' ").
Avram testified that his contract with Jackson called for two for-profit millennium concerts and two charity concerts and that when the charity shows lost money, he expected to recoup his losses with the millennium concerts but could not when Jackson backed out in October 1999. He said he lost even more money on advance event and production costs — about $10 million — as well as a $1.2 million advance paid to Jackson for the millennium shows. The promoter estimated he lost another $10 million in earnings for the two concerts and the worldwide television rights he had secured.
Because Jackson never performed the concerts and never rescheduled them, according to the lawsuit, the promoter was "left to explain [Jackson's] erratic behavior and to pay all of his bills. As a result, [Avram] is now vulnerable to countless lawsuits, some already filed from Jackson's concert vendors."
The suit isn't the first Avram has filed against Jackson. In 1994 Avram's promotion firm sued Jackson for $20 million after the singer failed to complete his 1993 Dangerous world tour, claiming fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty. Jackson had canceled 19 Avram-promoted concerts.
At the time, the singer faced allegations of child molestation, but the official reason given for the cancellation was that he was being treated for addiction to painkillers. Avram settled the lawsuit after obtaining an agreement that he would have the rights to promote the singer's next series of concerts.
So when Jackson allegedly went shopping around for a new promoter when it came time to promote Invincible, Avram sued him again (see "Michael Jackson Sued By Promoter For Attempting World Tour Without Him"). Though the tour never came to pass, Avram filed a $20 million complaint for anticipatory breach of contract, breach of contract and fraud. That suit is still pending.
Avram ran Mama Concerts & Rau, one of the largest concert agencies in the world, and worked with artists like Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart and Tina Turner before being convicted of tax evasion. Though he lost many clients during his jail stint, Jackson remained and even visited him in prison. Avram was released in April 1999 after serving nine months of a three-and-a-half-year sentence.