Who is Christine Lee? Spy, influence peddler for China or champion of Chinese people in UK?

The British spy agency MI5 sent out a warning and an image of a person named Christine Lee on Thursday, alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

It comes as no surprise that this has raised a number of concerns among British lawmakers. Now, the question that arises is: who is Christine Lee, what are the exact allegations against her and how did she obtain access to carry out the alleged “nefarious” activities? 

Who is Christine Lee?

Christine Ching Kui Lee is the founder of a law firm, Christine Lee & Co, which has offices in London and Birmingham. On its website, the law firm lists one of its roles as “Legal Advisor to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the UK and Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Belfast”.

Also read | China attempting to infiltrate the UK Parliament, warns MI5; China says ‘we have no need to buy influence’

What are the exact allegations against Christine Lee?

The spy agency alleged it had found that Lee “has facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China”. 

According to the MI5’s alert, Ms Lee claimed her involvement with Parliament was to represent Chinese in the UK and to increase diversity.

However, MI5 said that the activities had been executed in covert coordination with the United Front Work Department (of the CCP), with funding coming from foreign nationals based in China and Hong Kong.

MI5 alert

It is alleged that UFWD is trying to cultivate relationships with “influential figures” to ensure the UK political landscape favours the CCP, and to counter those that raise concerns about the party, such as human rights concerns.

She had “extensive engagement” with individuals across the political spectrum in the UK, including the now-dissolved All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), Chinese in Britain, according to the security service.

In their warning, MI5 said said Lee might aspire to establish APPGs in order to further the CCP’s agenda.

Has she been in contact with any British MPs?

According to MI5, the former Labour candidate for shadow cabinet, Barry Gardiner, received £200,000 ($275,000, 239,000 euros) from the London based solicitor. 

A lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, Gardiner received India’s prestigious Padma Shri award in January 2020. 

He acknowledged the donations in a statement, pointing out that he had maintained contact with British security services for many years and that they had been “made fully aware by me, of her engagement with my office and the donations she made to fund researchers in my office in the past.”

Moreover, he stated that Lee was not involved in either the selection or management of those researchers, and that she has ceased funding since June 2020. According to him, he did not benefit personally from these donations.

The statement mentions that the son of Ms. Lee had worked in Gardiner’s office until he resigned Thursday. 

Another name that has come up is that of the former prime minister, Theresa May, whose Conservatives have in the past been accused of benefitting from millions in Russian money. 

It is interesting to note that May awarded Lee with an honour for her contribution to Sino-UK ties in 2019 (now rescinded). 

Christine Lee award

In a personal letter to Christine, the them Prime Minister Theresa May said: “You should feel very proud of the difference that ‘The British Chinese Project’ is making in promoting engagement, understanding, and cooperation between the Chinese and British communities in the UK. I also wish you well with your work to further the inclusion and participation of British-Chinese people in the UK political system.”

Giving another glimpse of her “sphere of influence” is a photograph from 2015, where she was photographed with May’s predecessor David Cameron at an event.

Christine Lee with David Cameroon

Christine Lee with David Cameron (Source: Twitter)

Separately, she was also photographed with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Christine Lee with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Source: Twitter)

What actions have been taken against Lee?

Priti Patel, Britain’s interior minister, explained that Lee’s conduct does not meet the criminal threshold to be prosecuted. However, she said that by sending out the alert, the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee’s efforts to improperly influence them. 

There has also been no deportation of the accused, which has become a bone of contention for Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party, who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Questioning why the woman had not been deported, he demanded that the accreditation process for entering parliament be tightened, which he said was too lenient.