A PARTNER in a top Hong Kong law firm was involved in a US$4.79 million (HK$36.97 million) passports for cash scam, the High Court heard yesterday. People were conned into paying up to US$120,000 said to be contributions to an unknown political party, in exchange for a bogus Portuguese passport. They also had to invest up to US$60,000 in property in the country. The lawyer, whose full identity has been kept secret, referred the applicants to a Portuguese lawyer, Dr Manuel Andrade, previously based in Macau. He also set up a Citibank account to receive the money in the name of the practice in Central where he is a partner. A total of 77 bogus Portuguese passports were issued to Hong Kong residents and US$4.79 million changed hands. Some of the money went to a Gibraltar company and some ended up in Swiss bank accounts, the court heard. But the ruse was revealed when one of the bogus passport holders was stopped at Heathrow Airport in October 1991 and deported. The lawyer, surnamed Kwan, was found guilty by the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal of failing to pay money into client accounts and of conduct not befitting a solicitor. He was censured and fined $50,000. But Kwan was not struck off after the panel accepted he had no idea the passports were fake. The bogus documents have been handed over but the money has not been traced. Some of the applicants opted to keep their property investments, but Kwan repaid US$3.95 million himself. Yesterday his lawyer, Allen Yau, urged the Court of Appeal to overturn the tribunal's findings. Mr Yau said Kwan had acted in a personal capacity and it was not a question of a solicitor-client relationship. He told the court the tribunal was wrong to find Kwan guilty of taking part in a 'dubious scheme' because his client had no idea the passports were forged. Mr Yau said the charge of unbefitting conduct suggested Kwan knowingly aided the conspiracy. But Mr Justice Mayo said: 'No one ever suggested the solicitor was a co-conspirator. But it must be a dubious scheme if you are getting passports and not dealing with the [Portuguese] Government.' Joseph Fok for the Law Society of Hong Kong said any solicitor ought to have been suspicious of a set-up that bypassed the consulate and involved payments for passports that arrived by post. 'He took no independent steps to check the propriety of the scheme. He was grossly negligent or even reckless.' Mr Fok said applicants were shown a list of Portuguese names and asked to choose one for their ID card. The Court of Appeal will give its decision today.