Today the UK domestic intelligence service MI5 sent out a warning about a Chinese agent who was seeking to influence Members of Parliament on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party. Her name is Christine Ching Kui Lee and she has been making friends with and making donations to MPs since at least 2014.
According to the alert, Ms Lee claimed her involvement with Parliament had been to “represent the UK Chinese and increase diversity”.
But MI5 said that activity “had been undertaken in covert coordination with the United Front Work Department [of the CCP], with funding provided by foreign nationals located in China and Hong Kong”.
The UFWD is alleged to be seeking to “cultivate relations” with “influential figures” to ensure the UK political landscape is favourable to the CCP and to challenge those that raise concerns about the party, including over human rights.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner received significant donations to his office from Lee for the purposes of research. Gardiner claimed today that he had made security services aware of the situation years ago.
Mr Gardiner began getting donations from Ms Lee’s law firm, Christine Lee & Co, at the end of 2014.
According to the register of MPs’ interests, between then and 2020, he received over £420,000 in donations, mostly covering the costs of employing parliamentary researchers…
In a statement, Mr Gardiner, who was a member of the shadow cabinet when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, confirmed he had received the donations and that Ms Lee’s son had worked for him.
But he said he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years” about her and they had “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”.
The Brent North MP said she had “no role” in who was appointed as his researchers and all donations were “properly reported”, adding: “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.”
As you’ll see in the interview with MP Gardiner below, he says the security services came to him to warn him about Lee’s activity. Lee’s son was working in Gardiner’s office until today when this story came out.
All of this sounds remarkably similar to efforts by a Chinese spy named Fang Fang (or Christine Fang) who cozied up to a number of Democratic politicians in California several years ago. Fang was able to meet Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Judy Chu, Rep. Mike Honda and others but her closest connection was to Rep. Eric Swalwell for whom she worked as a bundler.
Fang “was a bundler” for Swalwell and other candidates, according to a Bay Area political operative with direct knowledge of her efforts. A current U.S. intelligence official confirmed her activity for Swalwell; a local elected official also said she brought in donors for other candidates. Bundlers persuade others to write checks for campaigns; they can bring in substantial sums of money as well as deepen the campaign’s engagement with target communities, making bundlers a valuable and thus potentially influential ally to a candidate…
Fang facilitated the potential assignment of interns into Swalwell’s offices, the political operative said. In at least one case, an intern recommended by Fang was placed into Swalwell’s D.C. office, this person said. A current U.S. intelligence official confirmed the intern placement.
Fang didn’t limit her efforts on behalf of the CCP to just collecting money. Axios reported at the time that she’d had sexual relationships with “two Midwestern mayors.” In Rep. Swalwell’s case, the FBI finally stepped in to give him a “defensive briefing” in 2015 about Fang’s activities. After that point, Swalwell cut himself off from Fang and she returned to China.
Here’s MP Gardiner saying he was shocked to discover Lee was an influence agent: