Police Scotland has been accused of ignoring public interest to “manage its own image” over the number of sex offenders on the run.
In response to a Freedom of Information request, the force had said no criminals of that type were “missing”.
However, it later admitted nine were “wanted”, prompting a furious response from Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes.
She said: “It is frustrating that once again Police Scotland have been found providing difficult answers to simple questions.
“Time and time again we learn that public interest is overshadowed by Police Scotland’s attempts manage its own image.
“Isn’t it time that police bosses stopped operating on a need-to-know basis, and started being forthcoming about policing in our communities?”
Figures released by 39 forces across the UK showed 394 sex offenders are currently wanted because their whereabouts are unknown.
Police Scotland’s response to the request reported that none are missing.
It is the latest in a series of controversies about how the force is held to account, following rows about stop and search being used on children and armed officers carrying out routine duties.
A Police Scotland spokesman insisted drawing a distinction between the two terms was appropriate.
He said: “There are zero missing registered sex offenders (RSOs).
“There are, however, nine wanted RSOs.
“For the purpose of this response, the terms of ‘wanted’ and ‘missing’ are not interchangeable.
“We take all reports of missing person with the utmost seriousness.
“There is a difference with people who are wanted for the failure to appear at court or to comply with notification.”