The Immigration Department warned yesterday it would seek to take people caught trading passports to higher courts so they could be handed heavier punishments. Immigration director Lai Tung-kwok said that depending on the nature of the cases, the same approach could be adopted for those involved in counterfeit identity card cases. 'The Department of Justice has agreed to take cases that are serious enough to the District Court, where tougher penalties such as immediate custodial sentences could be handed down,' Mr Lai said. The warning follows the arrest on July 12 of a courier allegedly working for a passport-buying syndicate and a man selling his passport. Six British National (Overseas) passports and a home-return permit were seized during the arrests at the Causeway Bay MTR station. Earlier estimates by the department suggested syndicates are making as much as $20 million a year by reselling passports to international people-smugglers. Hong Kong passports are popular with the syndicates because holders can visit more than 130 countries and territories without visas. The Immigration Department seized 29 fake Hong Kong SAR passports in the first six months of this year, compared with 114 passports for the whole of last year. The department has also detected 179 fake Smart ID cards since the new cards were introduced in August 2003. So far about 3.7 million new cards have been issued. The fakes are believed to have been produced on the mainland. The immigration chief said none of the forged cards had cracked the security features and that their quality was poor. For example, some forgers had used gold-coloured paper marked with black pens to mimic the microchip embedded in authentic cards. Meanwhile, the department is launching a publicity campaign ahead of the next phase of the ID-card replacement exercise, which in the next 10 months will specifically target people born after 1970. Those born in 1970 or 1971 can make appointments from Monday onwards to get a new ID card during the replacement period to be held between August 8 and September 24.