In a development that could have major implications on his singing career, authorities in California have issued arrest warrants in the name of Michael Jackson (45) on child molestation charges.
He has been accused of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14.
He has been asked to surrender to the Santa Barbara sheriff and hand over his passport. Bail has been set for $3 million.
The singer, who attained superstardom in 1980s with his album Thriller, was said to be in Las Vegas recording a video for his latest album Number Ones.
A television network quoted a friend of his as saying that Jackson, who has been involved in such controversies earlier too, would surrender on Thursday. He is said to be "making arrangements in consultations with his attorneys."
Jackson had faced similar charges about a decade ago but the case was settled outside court.
Authorities say this time things may be different as the family of the child allegedly molested is not after money but wants justice. They have sought help from people who have any knowledge of this or other such cases.
Meanwhile, Jackson's Spokesman Stuart Backerman said the singer would contest the allegations.
"The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false. Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom," he said. Authorities did not release details of the incident and reports said affidavits containing details would be sealed for 15 days to enable investigations to be completed.
But Brian Oxman, who had earlier represented the Jackson family, told CBS network that the case involves alleged molestation of a 12-year-old boy at Jackson's Neverland Ranch, the storybook playground where the singer has been known to hold sleepover parties with children. At present, Oxman is not representing him.
The charges follow disclosure made by the child to a therapist who reported them to the authorities as is required under the law. Each of the sex molestation charges is punishable by three to eight years imprisonment.
"Mr Jackson has been given the opportunity to surrender himself to the Santa Barbara sheriff's department within a specified period of time," Sheriff Jim Anderson told a crowded press conference which was telecast live across the nation.
"Get over here and get checked in," District Attorney Thomas W Sneddon Jr advised Jackson.
Stacy Brown, identified as a Jackson family friend, told MSNBC television network that the singer would turn himself in sometime on Thursday even as dozens of camera crews camped at the airport and kept a close watch on every passenger who got off arriving airplanes.
"As you can imagine, this has to be one of the most horrible days of his life," Brown said but asserted that Jackson was in "really, really good spirits, ready to tackle it and confront it and prove his innocence."
As the allegations surfaced, CBS cancelled a programme planned for next Wednesday about his greatest hits.
On Tuesday, about 70 law enforcement officers had searched the singer's $12.3 million ranch for 12 hours for evidence.
In a documentary telecast by ABC network earlier this year, Jackson had said he had slept in a bed with many children. "When you say bed, you are thinking sexual. It's not sexual. We're going to sleep. I tuck them in, it is very charming, it's very sweet."