A British fugitive living in Northern Cyprus was able to remain on the run after the high commission there mistakenly issued him with a replacement passport.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office admitted yesterday that it had given a 10-year passport to Gary Robb, a former nightclub owner from Stockton-on-Tees, even though he had fled the UK in 1997 to avoid a drugs trial and was the subject of an arrest warrant.
Robb settled in Northern Cyprus after 200 police in riot gear raided his Colosseum nightclub in Stockton. Northern Cyprus does not have an extradition treaty with the UK and Robb successfully applied for a new passport in 2001, allowing him to remain in the country.
"I can confirm that a passport was issued to Robb in 2001 and yes he was the subject of an arrest warrant," a spokesman for the FCO said. "It was an error and procedures have been put in place to make sure this does not happen again."
"I must say I was a bit nervous when I went to apply for it," Robb said. "But my old passport was about to expire and it was the only way of renewing my residence permit here. I've travelled everywhere on that passport: Thailand, Singapore, Florence, France, Cambodia, Istanbul. In fact, anywhere you can think of, except the UK. If I was such a bad man, why would they issue me with one?"
The authorities in Northern Cyprus are understood to have taken Robb's passport away but he declined the offer of emergency documents to get him back to the UK. "We understand that authorities have confiscated the 2001 passport," the FCO spokesman said. "He applied for a new passport in 2007 and was told that he could not be issued with one since he was subject to an arrest warrant."
Chief Superintendent Mark Braithwaite, head of crime operations for Cleveland police, which conducted the raid on Robb's nightclub, said it was "a good question" why Robb had been allowed the passport.
"Normally in a case like this, where there's a European arrest warrant, there are alerts," he said. "As far as we are concerned Gary Robb is unfinished business. There is an arrest warrant out for him and it remains very active.
"With proceedings still outstanding, we would seek to arrest him immediately, if he returned either voluntarily or entered a jurisdiction that had an extradition treaty with the UK."
A British court recently froze £1.5m of Robb's assets on the ground that he was suspected of money laundering.
Four years ago, unknown assailants sprayed Robb's luxury villa with bullets and raked his car with machine gunfire, an attack he only narrowly survived.