LONDON (AFP) - British security services have warned MPs that a suspected Chinese agent "knowingly engaged in political interference activities" inside Parliament, authorities said on Thursday (Jan 13).
The office of House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle confirmed that it had e-mailed MPs to tell them of the incident, in consultation with the security services.
"The Speaker takes the security of members and the democratic process very seriously, which is why he issued this notice in consultation with the security services," a spokeswoman for Hoyle said.
The notice named the suspect as Christine Lee, saying she had "knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party".
The London-based solicitor reportedly donated £200,000 (S$370,000) to former Labour shadow Cabinet member Barry Gardiner and hundreds of thousands of pounds to his party.
Former prime minister Theresa May - whose Conservatives have been accused of benefiting from millions in Russian money - presented Lee with an award in 2019 to recognise her contribution to Sino-UK ties.
Lee was also photographed with May's predecessor David Cameron at an event in 2015, and separately with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Lee "facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China", said the Speaker's note, according to British media.
"This facilitation was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments. This is clearly unacceptable behaviour and steps are being taken to ensure it ceases," it added.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and vocal critic of Beijing, demanded strong action after Britain's MI5 intelligence agency warned of Lee's activities.
"I say, as a Member of Parliament who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government, that this is a matter of grave concern," he said.
China last year imposed sanctions on 10 UK organisations and individuals, including Duncan Smith, over what it called the spreading of "lies and disinformation" about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Lee has not been arrested or deported, merely barred from entering Parliament, he complained.
Conservative former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told the Commons that "this is the sort grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China".
"But the fact that it's happened to this Parliament, there must be a sense of urgency from this government."
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese embassy in London or from the UK government.
Gardiner said Christine Lee's son had been employed as his diary manager but had resigned on Thursday.
In a statement, he said all of her donations were properly reported and any suggestion of shady money was not linked to his office, but that he had been "liaising with our security services" for many years about her.
Who is Christine Lee?
Ms Christine Lee, also known as Christine Ching Kui Lee, is the founder of a law firm called Christine Lee & Co Solicitors, which has offices in London and Birmingham.
The company lists on its website one of its roles as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Britain.
Ms Lee is listed under her company as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain’s corporate registry.
In 2019, former prime minister Theresa May – whose Conservatives have been accused of benefiting from millions in Russian money – presented her with an award in 2019 to recognise her contribution to Sino-British ties.
Ms Lee was also photographed with Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron at an event in 2015, and separately with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Today, the lawyer has not been arrested or deported, but is barred from entering Parliament, said Mr Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and vocal critic of Beijing.
A Chinese media report in 2019 noted that Ms Lee was one of the representatives of the Chinese community overseas who were invited to participate in the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China that year, the Guardian news site reported.
The report said the 58-year-old had migrated from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland with her parents in 1974 when she was a child and was often teased by her classmates.
She was quoted as saying in the report: “I understood at that time that no matter how fluent my English is, and no matter what nationality I am, I will always have yellow skin, black eyes, and the blood of the descendants of Yan and Huang will always flow in my body.”