UK intelligence agency accuses political donor of pro-China interference

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By AP  with Euronews
MPs listen to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving an update on the latest situation in Afghanistan in the House of Commons, London, Sept. 6, 2021.
MPs listen to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving an update on the latest situation in Afghanistan in the House of Commons, London, Sept. 6, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP

Britain’s domestic intelligence service has warned that a London-based lawyer is trying to “covertly interfere in UK politics” on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Thursday sent MPs an alert from the MI5 spy agency alleging that Christine Lee was acting in coordination with the Chinese party’s United Front Work Department.

MI5 said Lee had facilitated donations to British political parties and lawmakers “on behalf of foreign nationals.”

Members of Parliament are required to declare the source of donations they receive, which must be from UK-registered electors or entities.

China on Friday dismissed the warning as “irresponsible” and says the those behind the accusation may be "too obsessed" with James Bond 007 films.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China has “no need to and will never engage in the so-called interference".

MI5 said the United Front Work Department — an organisation dedicated to exerting Chinese influence abroad — was seeking to "cultivate relationships with influential figures".

The agency said the aim was to ensure the UK political landscape is "favourable" to the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party and to "challenge" any human rights concerns that are raised.

Labour Party MP Barry Gardiner said in a statement that he had received donations from Lee in the past to fund researchers in his office.

Gardiner added that he had been “liaising” with British security services for years about Lee.

“I have been assured by the Security Services that whilst they have definitively identified improper funding channelled through Christine Lee, this does not relate to any funding received by my office,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner also said Lee’s son worked in his office as a diary manager but had resigned on Thursday.

“The Security Services have advised me that they have no intelligence that shows he was aware of, or complicit in, his mother’s illegal activity," Gardiner said.

Although Lee has not been accused of any criminal offense, Conservative MPs have expressed concern that the lawyer had not been arrested, but only banned from entering parliament.

Lee’s firm -- Christine Lee & Co -- says on its website that it has “developed strong affiliations between the U.K. and China” and has acted as a legal advisor to the Chinese embassy in London.

Lee's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relations between Britain and China had grown increasingly frosty, with UK officials accusing Beijing of economic subterfuge and human rights abuses.

In November the head of the MI6 overseas intelligence agency, Richard Moore, called China one of the biggest threats to Britain and its allies.

China has repeatedly criticised what it calls British interference in its internal affairs and denied meddling in the politics of foreign nations.

Speaking at a daily briefing, Wang said China hoped the “relevant British official will refrain from making groundless allegations and hyping the China threat to serve (the government’s) ulterior motives.”