A civil servant who failed to turn up for work for at least six years, was rumbled by officials when he qualified for a "long service" award. Joaquin Garcia was fined almost €27,000 (£21,000) after his long absence from his job at a local authority-ran water company was noticed.

Garcia, who is now retired, was employed to supervise the building of a waste water treatment plant for Aguas de Cádiz in South-west Spain. The 69-year-old had said that he had been moved to the post where there was no work to do after he was the victim of bullying.

The court in Cadiz heard how he had avoided detection as the water company thought he was supervised by the local authorities and vice versa. His annual salary totalled €37,000 a year and the fine imposed was the most that the company could legally reclaim.

His supervisor at the water company said during the hearing that he had not seen Garcia for years despite occupying an office next to his. And the deputy mayor only realised that Garcia was absent when he qualified for a commemorative plaque for 20 years' service.

According to Spanish newspaper El Mundo he denied the charges and told the hearing that he was bullied due to his family's politics, that there was no work to do there, and he was scared to report his lack of work as he had a family.

He added that at his age it may be difficult for him to get another job and he used to turn up to the office, but not for regular business hours. Instead he dedicated his time to reading philosophy, but has now gone into hiding after suffering a "lynching" at the hands of the Spanish media. Newspapers have labelled Garcia as "el funcionario fantasma" - the phantom official.

Garcia has since written to the mayor following the decision to plead with him to not pay the fine.