Britain's spy service MI5 sent out an alert to lawmakers on Thursday about a woman named Christine Lee claiming that she was "involved in political interference activities" in the UK Parliament on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The alleged Chinese spy came under the spotlight after shocking allegations were made against her by the House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Thursday.
Hoyle shared a letter with ministers that details a warning issued by the MI5 about Lee alleging that she "has been engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, engaging with members here at parliament". Since then, Lee has been a subject of interest in international media with bombshell revelations having come to the fore over the past two days.
Mystery Woman in Focus
Lee, 58, is a solicitor by profession but largely remains an enigma to the entire world after the warning issued by the British spy agency. The allegations against her are strong but the Chinese embassy in London have straightaway rubbished the report claiming that China doesn't interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
"We have no need and never seek to 'buy influence' in any foreign parliament," the embassy said in a statement. "We firmly oppose the trick of smearing and intimidation against the Chinese community in the UK." But that is how China has always reacted to allegations in the past.
That said, the allegations come after a "significant, long-running" MI5 investigation, Whitehall sources told the BBC. According to investigation by MI5, Lee has "established links" between the CCP and existing and aspiring UK parliamentarians and is working as a pivotal member in passing on information to the CCP. Lee allegedly has also contributed funds to British ministers, including donations totaling over $500,000 to Labour MP Barry Gardiner over a five-year period.
However, Neither Lee nor Gardiner have been accused of criminal activity as so far, she is just a suspect and her dealings haven't been illegal. However, even then MI5 is on high alert about Lee.
Who is Lee?
Obviously, the big question is who is Lee and how did she become so influential that made her come under the MI5 radar. Born Christine Ching Kui Lee, the 58-year-old is the founder of a law firm with offices in London and Birmingham.
According to her website, her 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". And that is where the suspicion fuels from given her links with the CCP and the aspiring and existing British politicians.
MI% has alleged that it 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 spy agency's alert, 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.
It is not known how much involvement Lee had in that but she definitely has some links having already established a strong base in the UK over the past many years.
Lee moved from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland in 1974 with her parents before settling in West Midlands in 1985. She got married for the first time at the age of 21 in Birmingham. That marriage however, didn't last and she married a second time after five years to Martin Wilkes in Solihull.
The couple had two children. Wilkes, 71, is also a solicitor and is listed as a director of five of Lee's companies and has been described as the head of Christine Lee & Co's Birmingham office and its conveyancing department.
So far, there is no report of any wrongdoing against Wilkes. The couple live in a $1.4 million house in an upmarket gated estate in the smart market town of Solihull. Lee had earlier spoken about her "troubled" childhood in Belfast, where she attended a top boarding school. She would regularly be bullied over there which also made her a strong person. In a YouTube video, she had earlier spoken about how she encouraged the 'weaker boarders' to get together and stand up to the bullies.
"They didn't know what to do at first so I started to teach them kung fu," she said. "I didn't know much about kung fu, I just watched Bruce Lee on TV so I pretended I knew."
But she claims her troubled childhood made her determined to "fight for her rights" and inspired her to become a lawyer.
But then the new big question comes why did she move from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland? Lee had earlier said that her father was her biggest motivation and that he had founded the Chinese Community Association in Belfast.