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Wednesday September 1, 2010

Bogus gasmen under pressure in Majorca

Knock knock. On the doorstep a cheery Majorcan brandishing a clipboard and wearing bright orange overalls that wouldn’t look out of place in Guantanamo Bay is requesting to check the gas cylinders and why not?

The gas inspector, for that is how his big lapel badge announces him, explains that he needs to check the Butane gas cylinders that are secreted in a gully beyond the back kitchen wall. Once inside the house he rolls up his sleeves and busies himself with paperwork before stepping out into the sunshine to fiddle convincingly with the cylinders. He cleans the nozzles, examines the pipes, and with a swift intake of breath, explains that a replacement valve is required. Twenty minutes later he packs up his tool box, issues a signed inspection sheet and matter-of-factly demands €60.

That uneventful scene happened in my household in rural Soller six years ago. As it transpired the friendly gas inspector was bogus and my husband and I were shown to be a pair of chumps for letting him into our home. Nowadays, more savvy and able to speak Spanish, I’d like to think we wouldn’t be so naïve but for many newly arrived expats, it’s easy to be duped. For years these criminals appear to have been allowed to act with impunity in Majorca and have never been brought to justice.

Several friends in the valley, some long term residents, others native Majorcans, have suffered at the hands of these men and it’s not hard to understand why. The con men form part of a team that operates island wide. They are polite, uniformed, with visible identification badges and offer business cards displaying the name of the local gas company. In other words they are very plausible. Inevitably a fee is charged to the home owner but the amount isn’t hefty enough to raise suspicion.

Until now, gang members have not been traced and in truth, the local police force hasn’t seemed too bothered, probably regarding them as fairly harmless small time crooks. But the petty criminals have recently overreached themselves. It seems that this summer small armies of gasmen have appeared on doorsteps in every town and village from Andratx in the south to Alcudia in the north and finally the authorities have taken note. Stern warnings have appeared in the press and arrest warrants have been issued. One felon has already been apprehended in the tourist area of Playa de Palma and householders are being urged only to accept pre-arranged visits from the island’s gas companies.

Who can say how much longer the fugitives will stay on the run but surely it won’t be too long before they run out of gas?

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