British MPs have been warned by MI5 that a Chinese agent was “involved in political interference activities” in parliament for the Chinese Communist Party, including the donation of more than £ 420,000 to one Labor member.
Christine Ching Kui Lee, a lawyer who runs her own London law firm, Christine Lee & Co, has been accused of “facilitating financial donations to serving and aspiring politicians” on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.
MI5 warned that anyone contacted by Lee “should be mindful of her commitment to the Chinese state and instructed to advance the CCP’s agenda in British politics”. Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a memo to all MPs and peers, Commons Spokeswoman Lindsay Hoyle said MI5 had issued an “interference warning” about Lee, who he said was “involved in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party”.
It is rare for MI5 to issue disturbance warnings on foreign nationals. Charles Parton, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the move “reflects the fact that the security services are quite concerned about what China is doing in this country, both in terms of traditional espionage, which it is not.” , but also in terms of modern forms of interference and influence ”.
Lee has been on the agency’s radar for some time. But the decision to issue a formal warning was motivated by concerns that she was deliberately linking her with the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party unit dedicated to building power overseas through opaque influencing activities.
The lawyer founded a group called the British Chinese Project and in 2019, former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May gave her a award for “promoting engagement, understanding and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK”. The award has since been revoked.
According to the MPs’ register of interests, she donated more than £ 420 000 to the Labor MP and former shadow minister Barry Gardiner.
The MP said he had “liaised with our security services” for a number of years about Lee, saying MI5 “always knew, and made me fully aware, of her commitment to my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past ”.
He said he did not personally benefit from the donations “in any way” and in June 2020 Lee stopped funding any workers in his office.
Lee’s son was working in Gardiner’s office until he left the role on Thursday, the MP confirmed. He added: “The security services let me know that they have no intelligence showing that he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother’s illegal activities.”
Interior Minister Priti Patel said: “I know it will be of great concern to many that an individual who was consciously involved in political interference on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party targeted parliamentarians.”
She described Lee’s activities as “below the criminal threshold” and officials suggested that it was difficult to prosecute Lee, who was accused of influence, not espionage.
Patel is expected to address MPs on the matter in the Commons on Friday.
The Home Office declined to comment on Lee’s citizenship status or why she was not deported. However, intelligence officials have long complained that Britain does not have the legal powers needed to tackle modern challenges such as influence operations, which cannot be easily prosecuted. A planned review of espionage legislation, first announced in 2019, has yet to take effect.
Richard Moore, head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, warned in November that China was now the “single top priority “ for his agency. “The Chinese intelligence services are highly competent and continue to carry out large-scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies,” he warned.
Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader and an outspoken critic of the regime in Beijing, questioned why Lee did not face deportation.
“How can it be that an agent of a foreign despotic and despicable power. . . how can they put someone in parliament and then that individual did nothing to them except that they are not allowed in parliament. It is definitely not good enough. “