Forty families were swindled out of more than $27 million over two years by an emigration consultancy which falsely promised help to win Australian residency, it was claimed yesterday. Thirty applicants are stuck in Australia as 'illegal immigrants', while the others came home, having lost most of their savings, lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung said. The firm, now in Tsim Sha Tsui, changed its name and closed its Central office at the end of June, victim Tommy Tam said. It lured the applicants into signing agreements allowing it to invest $690,000 received from each family in Australia, returning the amount three years later on an interest-free basis, he said. Applicants were then issued three-month business visas, instead of emigration visas which granted them residency, Mr Tam said. The firm involved cannot be named for legal reasons but is still in operation. Mr Tam claimed about 30 families had sold everything they had to go to Australia and were now stuck there, some with mortgages, but unable to obtain right of abode. Mr Leung quoted another applicant named 'Martin' who said he was conned out of $730,000 after permitting the firm to invest money for him in Australia. He emigrated at the end of 1996 and then asked the company to apply for a long-term business visa for him but heard nothing for six months. He found out later his application failed because the Australian Immigration Department wanted more documents. He was not notified and failed to produce them. On July 16, Mr Tam together with Martin filed a police complaint after trying to get the money back. The police first classified the case as commercial fraud but later told them that since the company was still operating and it involved personal financial matters, they could not intervene, Mr Tam said. Three of the applicants had approached the Consumer Council but were told the case was in progress, he said. But the head of the firm said to be involved denied the allegations, saying he had received two complaints from clients demanding refunds because they either decided to withdraw from the scheme or failed to supply adequate information for application. Business rivals were behind the accusations, he said, rejecting claims he had opened and closed different companies to escape a police probe.