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UK spies accuse political donor of pro-China interference

UK spies accuse political donor of pro-China interference

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s domestic intelligence service has warned lawmakers that a London-based lawyer is trying to “covertly interfere in U.K. politics” on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Thursday sent legislators an alert from the MI5 spy agency alleging that Christine Lee was acting in coordination with the Chinese ruling party’s United Front Work Department, an organization known to exert Chinese influence abroad.

MI5 said Lee had “facilitated” donations to British political parties and legislators "on behalf of foreign nationals.” Members of Parliament are required to declare the source of donations they receive, which must be from U.K.-registered electors or entities.

Lee is not accused of a criminal offense.

Barry Gardiner, a lawmaker for the left-of-center opposition Labour Party, received more than 500,000 pounds ($685,000) from Lee between 2015 and 2020, mostly for office costs, according to official records. Lee also made small donations to the Liberal Democrats almost a decade ago,

Gardiner said he had not benefited financially from his association with Lee and only learned Thursday that Lee had been trying to “insinuate and influence” British politics.

“But I had been cautious because I knew she was a solicitor who acted for a number of a Chinese businesses in the U.K. over a very long period of time, and for that reason I had spoken openly and frankly with our security services for a number of years about the engagement that I had with her,” Gardiner told Sky News.

Gardiner said Lee’s son worked in his office as a diary manager, but had resigned on Thursday. He said British intelligence believed the son was unaware “of his mother’s illegal activity.”

Lee’s firm, Christine Lee & Co., states 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. It has offices in the U.K. and China and practices immigration, corporate and commercial law, according to the website.

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

Relations between Britain and China have grown increasingly frosty, with U.K. 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.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Lee’s activities did not reach “the criminal threshold” but were nonetheless concerning.

She told broadcasters the U.K. government was “working to look at what measures we can take to strengthen our laws, our legislations, to effectively lead to the type of prosecutions that we currently cannot deliver.”