"I'm here because of 'Blondie'"

José Luis Rodríguez Neri, head of SGAE's digital unit, allegedly ran the racket

"I'm here because of 'Blondie.' The day he decides to leave, I will leave before him." The man referred to as "Blondie" is the fair-haired Eduardo "Teddy" Bautista, chairman of the board of the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE). The man stating that he will leave before him is José Luis Rodríguez Neri, director general of the digital unit of SGAE and the alleged mastermind, according to Judge Pablo Ruz, of a "parasitic business network" used to divert funds to private companies.

Neri would often repeat that sentence to his friends. Everyone knew he had a special relationship with Bautista. Neri was his right-hand man, and his loyal collaborator on technology issues. Bautista proposed that he direct the Sociedad Digital de Autores y Editores (SDAE), which was eventually used as a tool for the embezzlement, Judge Ruz posits.

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Neri's close relationship with the world of music writers began over 30 years ago. In the mid-1970s he played acoustic guitar and the flute for an experimental band called Araxes II, which recorded two songs for the 1978 album Rock del Manzanares ¡Viva el Rollo! . Neri also played with the band at the first parties thrown by the recently legalized Spanish Communist Party. "For many years he also worked for Telefónica," explains Ramón Martínez Márquez, Ramoncín, a former boardmember of SGAE who knows Neri well.

At one point he dropped music and started to show an interest in new music-related technologies. He was a pioneer in the field. "I met him in the 1990s and he gave me a CD-ROM," recalls the journalist Luis Clemente. "At that moment I didn't even know what that was." Neri shared this interest with SGAE top man Bautista, who always bought the latest gadgets going out on the market. They were joined by their addiction to technology, and for Neri it became a way of life. He set up companies to develop computer tools related to culture. Microgénesis, the focus of the current investigation, was created in 1992.

Microgénesis worked with SGAE long before SDAE was created in late 1999. "Neri knew SGAE people personally and he was a regular collaborator," explains Juan Carlos Caco Senante, a member of the board that was re-elected on Thursday.

By the time Neri was appointed director general of SDAE, both men were close. Neri was so widely trusted that he was allowed to decide what companies to contract the work out to. And he only hired Microgénesis, which happened to be his own company, although he left in 2003 and left it in the hands of his business partner Rafael Ramos, a professor of business organization at Madrid's Universidad Politécnica.

Yet Judge Ruz points out that Neri still had links to Microgénesis until 2005, and continued to use company credit cards until November 2007 when the media reported the accusation filed with the Anticorruption Attorney's Office. Neri's wife, María Antonia, and sister-in-law, Eva García Pombo, also held positions in Microgénesis, as did Ramos' sentimental partner, Elena Vázquez, who was the main shareholder. This group of people also created another company that worked for SDAE every time Neri requested its services. These businesses served to divert SGAE funds by turning in inflated invoices and charging for non-existent services.

The first person to accuse Neri of conducting unlawful business activities through his company was a musician named Luis Cobo, aka "Manglis." In 1997 he attended a SGAE assembly with an armload of documents on Microgénesis. "I have a neutron bomb inside my briefcase," he said, before publicly accusing Neri, who was there at the meeting, of illicit enrichment and of cheating the organization. Neri threatened to take him to court for slander. Nobody paid attention to Cobo. "His statements were not very coherent," says Caco Senante by way of justification.

Four years have gone by since the formal accusation by several associations. SDAE, which was directed by Neri, was shut down following a decision by the SGAE board a day before the police raid. A spokesman said the unit was closed down "because it was no longer necessary" and that it had always been considered a stop-gap operation.

Judge Ruz believes that Neri and other executives planned to make SDAE disappear "as quickly and opaquely as possible."

Neri's friends at SGAE still cannot believe he used his position to make himself rich for years. "He is a man who does not show off. He never wears jackets or ties; he is very kind, accessible and charming," says his friend Ramoncín. "As a young man he was a member of (the anarcho-syndicalist union) CNT. That is where he met his wife Antonia. All he wanted now, like he always said, was to leave his job soon, move to his house in Caños de Meca, in Cádiz, and rest in front of a beer and a plate of good ham."

José Luis Rodríguez Neri, head of SGAE's digital unit.
José Luis Rodríguez Neri, head of SGAE's digital unit.
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