Britain’s domestic spy service, MI5, has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party is employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.
MI5 sent a warning and a photo of the woman named Christine Lee on Thursday, claiming she was “involved in political interference activities” in the UK on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Spokeswoman Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI5’s alert to lawmakers, said MI5 found that Lee “facilitated financial donations to serve and aspiring lawmakers on behalf of foreigners based in Hong Kong and China.”
Hoyle said Lee was involved with the now-disbanded Chinese all-party parliamentary group in Britain.
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s behavior was currently below the criminal threshold for prosecuting her, but said that by issuing the alert, the government was able to alert lawmakers to attempts to Lee from influencing them unduly.
Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party would target lawmakers.
Lee is the founder of a law firm, which has offices in London and Birmingham, according to a government official. A woman who answered the phone in her Birmingham office said: “We are not taking calls right now.” A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.
The law firm lists on her website one of her roles as legal advisor to the Chinese embassy in Great Britain.
The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
“We have no need and never seek to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament,” she said. “We are firmly opposed to the smear and intimidation gimmick against the Chinese community in the UK.”
She is a long-time funder of the office of Labor MP Barry Gardiner allied with Jeremy Corbyn, through her law firm Christine Lee & Co, which also works for the Chinese Embassy in London.
Since 2005, Ms Lee has donated £675,586.88 to Labor primarily through Mr Gardiner’s office.
Donations began in September 2015, shortly after Representative Brent North’s Gardiner became shadow energy minister.
They included £182,284 which pays the salaries of two of Gardiner’s Westminster aides – one of whom is Christine Lee’s son Daniel Wilkes.
In 2019, she delivered a £5,000 donation to the central party ahead of that year’s election.
Mr. Gardiner said he “has been in contact with our security services for several years about Christine Lee and they have always known, and been fully informed by me, of her involvement with my office and the donations she has made to fund researchers in my office. in the past”.
He added: “Measures were taken to ensure that Christine Lee had no role in the appointment or management of these researchers.
“They are also aware that I have not personally benefited from these donations in any way. It ceased funding any workers in my office in June 2020.
“All donations were duly reported in the member’s interest register and their source verified at the time.
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“I have been assured by the Security Services that while they have definitively identified improper funding channeled through Christine Lee, this does not refer to any funding received by my office.”
Gardiner said Lee’s son volunteered at his office “many years ago” before being hired as his schedule manager – but resigned today.
The deputy said the security services assured him that he was not an accomplice in “his mother’s illegal activity”.
Ms. Lee has stood side by side with Mr. Corbyn, PM David Cameron and even received a Points of Light Award from Theresa May.
Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs: “I must highlight the fact that Lee has facilitated financial donations to serve and aspiring MPs on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.
“This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments. This is clearly unacceptable behavior and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the UK Conservative Party who was sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent government update on the matter.
He questioned why the woman was not deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for people who have access to parliament, which he said was too lenient.
Lee is listed with the law firm Christine Lee & Co as a British citizen on financial records at Companies House, the corporate registry of Great Britain.
Former Defense Minister Tobias Ellwood told parliament of his alleged activity: “This is the kind of gray zone interference that we now anticipate and expect from China.”
Britain’s relations with China have deteriorated in recent years over issues such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Last year, MI5 urged British citizens to treat the espionage threat from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism.
British spies say China and Russia have tried to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property, as well as interfere in domestic politics and sow disinformation.
The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event at the British parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
China imposed sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for spreading what it said were “lies and misinformation” about the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the country’s far west.
No MP is suspected of any crime at this stage and the focus of the MI5 investigation is on the Chinese authorities and their attempts to harm Britain.
Ms. Lee was not arrested but remains under investigation by the security services.
She is believed to still be in the UK and runs a law firm with offices in London and Beijing.
A spokeswoman for the Office of the President said: “The President takes the security of deputies and the democratic process very seriously, which is why he has issued this notice in consultation with the security services. There is no further comment on this matter.”