LONDON, January 13, Reuters -- Britain's domestic spy service MI 5 has warned lawmakers that the Chinese Communist Party has been employing a woman to exert improper influence over members of parliament.
On Thursday, MI 5 sent out an alert and picture of the woman named Christine Lee, alleging she was involved in political interference activities in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who circulated MI 5's alert to lawmakers, said that Lee had found that Lee had facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and China Hoyle, who said Lee had been involved with the now disbanded all-party parliamentary group, Chinese in Britain.
Britain s interior minister Priti Patel told reporters that Lee's behaviour was currently below the criminal threshold to prosecute her, but she said that by putting the alert out the government was able to warn lawmakers about Lee's attempts to influence them.
Patel said it was deeply concerning that an individual working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party had targeted lawmakers.
According to a government official, Lee is the founder of a law firm that has offices in London and Birmingham. A woman who answered the phone at the Birmingham office said: We are not taking any calls now. A request for comment left at the London office went unanswered.
The law firm lists one of its roles as a legal adviser to the Chinese Embassy in Britain on its website.
The Chinese embassy in London said that China does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
It said that we have no need to 'buy influence' in any foreign parliament. We strongly opposes the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK. Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from Lee and said he has been a liaising with intelligence services for a number of years about her.
Gardiner said they have always known, and 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.
Gardiner hired Lee's son as a diary manager, but he resigned on Thursday.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Britain's governing Conservative Party who was sanctioned by China for highlighting human rights abuses in Xinjiang, called for an urgent update from the government on the issue.
He said the accreditation process for people who are gaining access to parliament was too lenient, and he questioned why the woman had not been deported.
Lee is listed as a British national in financial filings with Companies House, Britain's corporate registry.
The former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told the parliament of her alleged activities: This is the kind of grey-zone interference we now anticipate and expect from China. Britain's relations with China have deteriorated in recent years due to issues including Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
In the last year, MI 5 urged British citizens to treat the threat of spying from Russia, China and Iran with as much vigilance as terrorism. British spies say that China and Russia have tried to steal commercially sensitive data and intellectual property, as well as interfere in domestic politics and sow misinformation.
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.
In March of last year, China placed sanctions on nine British politicians because they spread lies and disinformation about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country's far west.