The Neverland ranch of the late pop star Michael Jackson has reportedly been sold to a billionaire investor for a quarter of its initial asking price.

Ron Burkle, a former friend of Jackson, recently bought the estate in Los Olivos, California, his spokesman said.

He paid US$22 million (£16.2 million) for Neverland, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing public records and three people familiar with the deal.

The 2,700-acre (1,100 hectares) compound was first listed for US$100 million in 2015.

Since then Neverland, north of Santa Barbara city, has been on and off the market, listed most recently last year for the lower price of US$31 million.

The Thriller singer bought Neverland in 1987, making it his home during the height of his fame.

He turned the ranch into an entertainment complex, building a zoo and fairground on-site, where he regularly entertained children and their families.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Neverland became the centre of various investigations into child sexual assault allegations against Jackson.

Jackson denied allegations by Santa Barbara prosecutors that he had used Neverland as a fantasy world to groom young boys.

In 2005, Jackson was tried and acquitted of allegations he abused a 13-year-old boy at the ranch.

Jackson never returned to Neverland. Four years later, in June 2009, Jackson died at another home in Los Angeles after suffering a cardiac arrest induced by a drug overdose.

Since his death, Jackson has been the subject of further abuse allegations, including those made in a documentary called Leaving Neverland in 2019.

Neverland has been rebranded as Sycamore Valley Ranch and has undergone extensive redevelopment since Jackson’s death.

Mr Burkle’s spokesman said the businessman saw the investment as a land banking opportunity.

He spotted the estate from the air while looking at another location and contacted Tom Barrack, the founder of real-estate investment company Colony Capital LLC, to seal the sale.

Mr Burkle, 68, is co-founder and managing partner of Yucaipa Companies, LLC, a private investment firm. His net worth as of 24 December 2020 was estimated to be US$1.4 billion, according to a profile by American business magazine Forbes.