MI5 accuses lawyer of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China

An unprecedented security alert from MI5 was circulated to lawmakers and peers on Thursday, accusing a lawyer, Christine Li, of improperly influencing lawmakers on behalf of China’s ruling Communist Party.

this is the first time that Mi5 has issued an “interference warning” related to China and a high-profile Anglo-Chinese lawyer who received an award from Theresa May and donated £584,177 to the office of Labor MP and former Shadow cabinet member Barry Gardiner. Had given.

Alert names and pictures Christine Ching Cui Lee, which allegedly “involved in deliberate political interference activities on the part of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Communist Party of China”.

It said the UFWD was “trying to covertly interfere in UK politics by establishing links with established and aspiring parliamentarians across the political spectrum” and to “build relationships with influential figures”.

The Chinese embassy in London said in a statement issued on Thursday night, ‘China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. We have no need and never want to ‘buy influence’ in any foreign parliament. We strongly oppose the use of intimidation and defamation to malign the Chinese community in the UK.”

The security warning was shared in an email sent to lawmakers from the speaker’s office. In it, officials also accused Li of “facilitating financial donations to serving and interested lawmakers on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China.”

Li, 58, has been active in political circles for at least 15 years, promoting Anglo-Chinese relations through several groups such as the British Sugar Project and the all-party parliamentary group Chinese in Britain. In the pictures, their meeting is also visible during the time of David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

According to Labour, a law firm that bears his name made political donations totaling £675,586, of which £584,177 was “donations of sorts” to Gardiner’s office. The first of these was built in 2015.

Electoral Commission data show that Lee’s firm donated a further £90,029 in cash, mainly to Labor Party bodies, including Gardiner’s Brent North constituency party. The party said Labor received another £5,000 centrally.

In 2013 a further £5,000 was sent to the Lib Dems in Kingston, where party leader and then Energy Secretary Ed Davey took his seat.

Lee also received the Point of Light Award from Theresa May when she was prime minister. In a personal message, the then conservative leader praised her for “promoting engagement, understanding and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK”. The award was withdrawn on Thursday night. The online page for Lee’s Points of Light award said it had been “revoked”.

In a statement on Thursday, Gardiner said he had “been in contact with our security services for several years regarding Christine Lee” and that she was “informed about her engagement with my office and donations made to fund the researchers.” Was made fully aware of “in my office in the past”.

“All donations to the Register of Interests of Members were properly reported and their source verified at the time. I have been assured by Security Services that although they have certainly identified inappropriate funding disseminated through Christine Lee It is not related to any funding received by my office,” he said.

Later in an interview with Sky News, Gardiner said that he first learned that there were allegations of impact-pedaling by Lee, “when I had a meeting with the Director of Parliamentary Security and two Security Service agents” on Thursday morning. .

Gardiner also appointed Lee’s son as diary manager. He said that the son had resigned after the revelations of MI5. “The security services have advised me that they do not have any intelligence that suggests he was aware of or was involved in his mother’s illegal activity,” Gardiner said.

Under Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn, Gardiner was shadow business secretary and briefly shadow energy secretary in 2016 when he spoke out in support of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, in which a Chinese company was a minority investor.

When asked about this, Gardiner told Sky News that he was “not a cheerleader for the project” and was “highly critical of the government at the time and the way they allowed investors to rip off British billpayers.” were” the terms of the proposed deal at the time.

The Liberal Democrats said Dewey was shocked by the revelations, and was the first time that he had been given cause for concern about donations from Lee’s law firm. A spokesperson for the party said, “This donation was properly reported and all rules and guidance were followed – as Ed expects to be the case with donations made to allies throughout the household. “

The Guardian has attempted to contact Lee. He did not immediately respond to questions about MI5’s statements sent by the Guardian to his law firm.

Interference alerts are rarely issued after talks between intelligence agencies and parliamentary officials. Whitehall sources said no such alert has been issued with respect to China, and only pertains to Russia.

MI5 is understood to have been monitoring Lee for some time, concerned that she was targeting politicians of all political parties. The decision to issue the alert was made inside the agency, sources said, based on the tools at their disposal and without outside political direction.

Despite the warnings, it is understood that Lee is not being prosecuted.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she knew it would be “deeply concerned” that lawmakers were “targeted by a person who knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party”.

She continued: “Where necessary, proportionate action is always taken to mitigate these threats, thanks to our world-leading intelligence and security agencies.”

The government is planning to introduce a new espionage law to update the Official Secrets Acts. Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, said the Lee case demonstrated that the bill should be brought forward urgently and that “Britain’s mysterious espionage laws need to be updated urgently”.

There is growing concern in the UK intelligence community about Chinese espionage. Late last year, MI6 chief Richard Moore said China had become a foreign intelligence agency.single top priority“For the first time in its history.

In 2020, Britain quietly expelled three alleged Chinese spies who it said were posing as journalists. MI5 concluded that all three worked for China’s powerful Ministry of State Security (MSS), although claims of espionage are generally dismissed by Beijing.

Moments after it was sent on Thursday, the unexpected warning was discussed in the Chamber of Commons, with MPs Ian Duncan Smith and Tobias Ellwood in an order calling for an immediate update from the government.

Duncan Smith said: “The important point here is, I understand, that Mr Speaker has been approached by MI5 and is now warning Members of Parliament that there is an agent of the Chinese government active in Parliament. “