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Britain's MI5 issued Chinese spy alert to distract from PM scandal, court hears

Britain's MI5 issued Chinese spy alert to distract from PM scandal, court hears
Britain's MI5 issued Chinese spy alert to distract from PM scandal, court hears

 


LONDON — Britain's spy agency MI5 has issued an alert labeling a woman a Chinese agent, possibly to distract from a COVID lockdown scandal involving former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a heard in a London court on Monday.

In January 2022, MI5 sent an alert regarding lawyer Christine Lee, alleging she was “involved in political interference activities” in the UK on behalf of China's ruling Communist Party.

The warning was issued to lawmakers by the Speaker of the House of Commons, who said MI5 had discovered that Lee had “facilitated financial donations to serving and aspiring parliamentarians on behalf of foreign nationals based in Hong Kong and in China “.

Lee is now suing MI5 for unspecified damages, arguing that the agency acted illegally and unreasonably.

At an Investigatory Powers Tribunal hearing on Monday, his lawyer Ramby de Mello read out a message sent to Lee from Barry Gardiner – an opposition Labor Party lawmaker who said he had received hundreds of thousands of pounds from donations from him – in which he questioned the motives of MI5.

Gardiner wrote that “many people” believed the timing of the alert was to distract from Johnson's admission of an illegal gathering in Downing Street during the first COVID lockdown.

The day before the notice was published, Johnson apologized to Parliament for attending a “bring your own alcohol” rally held at his official residence.

“I never believed that the security services would be openly partisan in this way,” read Gardiner's message, sent to Lee via a mutual friend in May 2022.

“What was suggested to me was that the security services might have wanted to 'start a fight' or 'divert attention' from something else and that we were just collateral damage. “

Gardiner could not immediately be reached for comment.

De Mello said MI5 did not have the authority to issue an “unprecedented” opinion, which he said was factually incorrect in asserting that Lee had carried out political interference activities on behalf of the Department of Labor of United Front of the Chinese Communist Party.

He said the UFWD would not hire her as an agent because she was a devout Christian, saying the impact of the alert, which had sparked global interest, had been “catastrophic”, leading to threats of death and rape, and other abusive emails.

Her lawyers said in court papers that Lee, who watched the proceedings from the public gallery, was forced to spend most of her time in hiding, and had to adopt a false name and disguise her appearance with a new hairstyle.

In their written submissions, MI5 lawyers said the alert (IA) was issued for national security reasons to protect parliamentary democracy from foreign interference.

“The defendant considered that (Lee) posed a risk of this nature, and his judgment was that the issuance of the IA was the most effective and proportionate means of dealing with that risk. These assessments were rational and lawful,” the lawyers said. REUTERS

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