UK's MI 5: PM Modi's friend 'Barry Bhai' funded by Chinese Spy

A British MP Barry Gardiner, 64, who has been a friend and supporter of Narendra Modi for nearly 20 years, was on 14 January dropped as chairman of a seminar forum said to be funded by the Indian govt

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RickOShea54321
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RickOShea54321

Ashis Ray

A British member of parliament Barry Gardiner, 64, who has been a friend and supporter of Narendra Modi for nearly 20 years, was on 14 January dropped as chairman of a seminar forum said to be funded by the Indian government.

The move came after a shocking revelation the previous day by United Kingdom’s intelligence gathering organisation MI5 (which corresponds to the Intelligence Bureau in India) that he had received between £450,000-£600,000 over a decade until 2020 from allegedly a London-based Chinese "spy".

Until 13 January night Gardiner, awarded a Padma Shri by the Modi government in 2020, featured in promotions of the forum’s upcoming event on 19 January as its chairman. On the 14th morning, though, his name disappeared from the publicity material.

Sources close to the seminar forum, when asked, were tight-lipped about the compensation Gardiner, known to make long winded speeches in summing up proceedings, was obtaining for lending his name and services to the forum, if any. What is widely believed is that the cost of staging the forum's regular seminars was borne by the Indian state.

During the decade that Gardiner was being funded by Christine Lee, 58, a Birmingham-based solicitor, who according to MI5, was actually engaged in espionage for the Chinese Communist Party, he was also chairman of the opposition Labour party’s “Friends of India” group.

In effect, he was for a period simultaneously representing in some form or the other both Indian and Chinese interests in Britain. This is odd, because the two interests don’t exactly coincide with each other; and as a matter of fact, are often in conflict with one another.

Since 1997, Gardiner has been an MP from Brent North, a north-west London constituency with an estimated 35 percent Indian-origin voters, most of them of Gujarati-origin. These constituents are besotted by Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose affiliate in the UK is the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), and Overseas Friends of BJP, another RSS front.

HSS is registered as a charity. At least once, it has been warned by Britain’s Charity Commission for teaching children attending its summer schools to hate non-Hindus.

After the 2002 Gujarat riots, when Modi as chief minister of the state was suspected of being responsible for the killings of 800-1,000 people (though not prosecuted) in a communal carnage in which Muslims bore the brunt of casualties, Gardiner was at the fore-front of pleading for his presence in Britain, writing letters to the British government for this purpose and indeed inviting Modi on behalf of Labour Friends of India to visit.

In 2013, Gardiner invited Modi to undertake a trip to Britain, which the latter declined. Members of Asian Solidarity Forum accosted him at his constituency office for doing so. Gautam Appa, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics was quoted as saying: “Modi has declined the invitation because he knows there will be a lot of bad publicity from the Dawood family of Bradford, whose three members were murdered in the (2002) riots. He (Modi) had to cancel his visits twice before in 2005 and 2009. This time the family was planning to ask the (UK’s) attorney-general to issue a warrant for his arrest for breach of human rights.”

In 2019, Gardiner was involved in a spat with Huffington Post. This online publication wrote: “The shadow secretary of state for international trade (Gardiner) congratulated the leader on his message of celebrating “India’s diversity” – despite Modi being a Hindu nationalist who faces accusations of discriminating against the Muslim community under his rule.”

Gardiner replied by tweeting: “For avoidance of doubt (as some seem to be deliberately misreading my earlier tweet on Modi), I was congratulating the message of shared values for the future around diversity. I do not share his right wing political agenda.”

Not only did Gardiner get a rather large sum of money from Lee – which he hasn’t denied – but employed her son Daniel Wilkes (according to Gardiner as a volunteer) in his parliamentary office until 13 January. The UK’s Daily Mail newspaper reported: “Mr Gardiner has been supportive of China’s attempts to get more involved in Britain’s nuclear industry, including the Hinkley Point power plant.”

Gardiner described Lee’s donations to his work as “very poor investment”. But he didn’t explain why he received so much funding from her. Gardiner has since 2011 been chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chinese in Britain. He further stated: "I have been assured by the Security Services that whilst they have definitely identified improper funding channelled through Christine Lee, this does not relate to any funding received by my office."

The year he started being bankrolled by Lee, he also reportedly approached the minister (political affairs) at the Indian high commission for financial support for two researchers in his office. He was then heading Labour Friends of India. This request was not complied with.

That year quite late in the day he asked the mission to take him and his Friends of India colleagues to India around Christmas. This could not be accommodated as a Conservative Friends of India delegation had already been slotted in for a visit and he was informed that a trip by his group can be scheduled the following year.

However, in January of the following year – 2012 – he took part in a debate in the Commons wherein he criticised the high commission and the state of Indo-British relations (which were in fact quite good at the time). This came as a shock to Indian diplomats as Gardiner in his capacity as chair of Labour Friends of India was generally expected to stand up for India and the Indian high commission. Over and above, he issued a press release, which was prominently carried by British Asian papers with a reputation of being Modi’s voice in the UK, reiterating what he had said in parliament.

Following this episode, the Ministry of External Affairs decided to keep the Labour MP at arms-length. He was, though, restored to favour after the Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2014 general election and his friend Modi emerged at the helm of power.

Gardiner was requested to comment on his relationship with the high commission in 2011-12. He did not respond.

MI5 has alerted all MPs through the speaker of the House of Commons that the twice-married mother of two, Lee, was “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party”.

However, she is yet to be arrested or served with a deportation order. She has been active in Britain’s corridors of power for 15 years. She is an erstwhile legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in the UK.

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Published: 15 Jan 2022, 10:14 AM