- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Members of the Nation of Islam have begun playing a role in Michael Jackson’s affairs, although the group denies having any official part in the pop star’s life.

Sources close to the Jackson camp, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that Nation of Islam members have handled security at the singer’s Neverland ranch and have begun taking over some of his business affairs since he was accused of committing lewd acts on a child.

The sources have been involved in Mr. Jackson’s business affairs for at least a year, and each independently provided the details concerning the Nation of Islam links to the singer.

The group, which in the past has been accused of anti-Semitism and inflammatory, separatist rhetoric, issued a statement Monday after receiving inquiries from news organizations.

“The Nation of Islam, in response to several inquiries, has said today that it has no official business or professional relationship with Mr. Michael Jackson,” the statement said. “The Nation of Islam joins thousands of other people in wishing him well.”

Mr. Jackson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, also dismissed the reports and denied that Nation of Islam members had been working out of Mr. Geragos’ office.

“They are not part of his defense,” Mr. Geragos said. “I’m certainly not pushing away support from anyone, but I don’t ask people what their religious affiliation is when they offer support.”

Mr. Geragos acknowledged that when he had held a news conference on Mr. Jackson’s behalf after charges were announced on Dec. 18, one of those standing behind him was Leonard F. Muhammad, identified on the Nation of Islam’s Web site as its chief of staff.

Mr. Geragos said: “He’s one of Michael’s supporters.”

Under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam advocates black self-empowerment and a separate black state; Mr. Jackson is not a Muslim nor a member of the group, according to one of his brothers.

Asked about the Nation of Islam’s reported role in directing Mr. Jackson’s affairs, Jackson business adviser Charles Koppelman said, “It’s not the case as to his music, finances and assets. I think it’s primarily in security.”

Mr. Koppelman, a former chief of EMI Records, and another adviser, Alan Whitman, said they remain in charge of Mr. Jackson’s music and finances.

“I receive his bills and write his checks,” said Mr. Whitman, an accountant. “Anything else I relate to Mr. Jackson is confidential.”

Mr. Jackson’s brother Jermaine has converted to Islam but is not a member of the Nation of Islam. Asked during an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” whether his brother planned to convert, Jermaine Jackson said no.

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