U.K. spy service warns lawmakers over Chinese agent of influence

Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party is employing a woman to improperly influence MPs.

MI5 on Thursday sent out an alert and a picture of the woman, named Christine Lee, who claimed she was “involved in political interference activities” in the UK on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the UK House of Commons, circulated MI5’s warning to lawmakers. He said MI5 found that Lee “facilitated financial donations to serving and prospective MPs on behalf of foreigners based in Hong Kong and China”.

Hoyle said Lee was involved with the now-defunct all-party Chinese Parliamentary Group in Britain.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel told reporters that Lee’s conduct was currently below the criminal threshold for her to be prosecuted, but she said by releasing the alert the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s attempts to harass her to influence inappropriately.

Patel said it was “deeply concerning” that lawmakers were targeted by an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

According to a government official, Lee is the founder of a law firm with offices in London and Birmingham. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: “We are not taking calls now”. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.

The law firm lists on its website one of its roles as legal advisor to the Chinese Embassy in the UK.

The Chinese Embassy in London said in a statement that China does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.

“We have no need and never seek to buy influence in a foreign parliament,” it said. “We are firmly against the ruse of defamation and intimidation of the Chinese community in the UK.”

political donations

Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker from the opposition Labor Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he had been linked to intelligence agencies “for a number of years”.

“She has always known and been fully credited to me for her dedication to my office and the donations she has made in the past to fund researchers in my office,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner employed Lee’s son as diary manager, but he resigned on Thursday.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s ruling 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 had not been deported and called for a tightening of the accreditation process for those given access to Parliament, which he said was too lenient.

Lee is listed under the law firm Christine Lee & Co as a UK national on financial documents with Companies House, the UK companies register.

Former Defense Secretary Tobias Ellwood told Parliament of their alleged activity: “This is the kind of interference in the gray area that we now expect 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 threat of espionage 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, meddle in domestic politics and sow misinformation.

The Chinese ambassador to Britain was banned from attending an event in the British Parliament last year because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

China imposed the sanctions on nine British politicians in March last year for allegedly spreading “lies and disinformation” about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s far west.

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