They are persons of considerable influence – City grandees, royal representatives and major charity heads.
Among them are a life peer and three knights of the realm.
Another was a top Whitehall mandarin. All have impeccable CVs, barring one scandal.
The British individuals gathered up by the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to work for the company over the years could not be of higher calibre.
Queen Elizabeth II and Sir Kenneth Olisa, left, in 2018, and Prince Charles and Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation Lord John Browne, right, in 2019
Among the four non-executive board members of Huawei UK are the former boss of the blue-chip energy firm BP; the Queen’s representative in London; the former chairman of our own telecoms leviathan BT; and a man who spent five years in charge of UK Trade & Investment, the Government department which promotes exports and attracts foreign investments.
They are the cream of the British Establishment and could hardly have been better chosen to provide a ‘respectable’ face for Huawei.
But it is not just the board where Britons pull levers in the company.
The firm’s head of global security was once the Government’s chief information officer and centrally involved in its technology strategy.
Patience Wheatcroft, a former Fleet Street editor who had once sat on Huawei’s UK advisory board
Another former adviser happens to have been the Lib Dems’ spokesman for the digital economy.
Their involvement in the firm is proof of the way Huawei has managed to woo – and win – the influential Britons with expertise in its key areas of interest.
But now, there are calls for the four non-executive board members to cut their ties with the firm, while British employees not on the board are under scrutiny.
The growing outcry over Huawei comes after bombshell claims that the company has been involved in spying and covert manipulation – claims that it strongly denies.
As revealed by the Mail yesterday, a dossier compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele and others alleges some of these influential Britons – but not all –were targeted by the Chinese Communist Party, through Huawei.
The intention was to turn them into either ‘useful idiots’ or ‘full-time agents’.
The dossier, seen by the Mail, is not being formally published and does not contain corroborating evidence for some of its claims.
Its allegations have also been dismissed as ‘bizarre’ and ‘like a conspiracy theory’ by those it names.
Huawei, meanwhile, says the dossier’s findings have no basis in fact.
But the revelation of its existence comes as intelligence agencies in Britain review the advice they gave to Boris Johnson on Huawei, and as Mr Johnson is expected to announce that the UK will phase out Huawei from its 5G network over the coming years.
Pictured: UK Offices of Huawei, Global Information and Communications Technology company in Reading, Berkshire
The diplomatic row and possible trade war this will cause has been prefigured by the furious Chinese reaction to the Steele dossier claims.
The 86-page report titled ‘China’s Elite Capture’ alleges that a campaign to boost Huawei was launched on the ‘dark web’ two years ago.
It claims that between 2017-19 three ‘teams’ of ‘guns for hire’ were each paid £24,000 a month to carry out ‘targeted manipulation’ of Britons for the benefit of Huawei and therefore the Chinese state which controls the company.
Fake foreign radio shows were reportedly staged, on to which the targeted individuals were invited, in order both to influence their views and improve Huawei’s public image.
Social media, ‘bespoke’ emails and other covert techniques were also deployed.
Five individuals are named in the report.
And three of those ‘targets’ are on the board of its UK arm or work for the Chinese firm.
A fourth is a former adviser.
However, true or not, the allegations shine a spotlight on the influential Britons who continue to sit as directors on Huawei’s UK board or hold roles in a firm that allegedly threatens our security.
So who are these pillars of the Establishment?
Perhaps the most prominent is Lord Browne of Madingley.
Since February 2015 he has been chairman, in a non-executive capacity, of Huawei UK.
Pictured: Lord Browne of Madingley speaking during the award ceremony for the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering at Buckingham Palace in 2019
Before that he had a long and colourful history as a big beast in the City.
He attained prominence as the ‘Sun King’ of energy giant BP, where he worked for 41 years and which he ran from 1995 until 2007 when he resigned.
This followed his admission that he had lied in court over his private life.
In his BP role, he met frequently with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The 72-year-old is also executive chairman of L1 Energy, a large independent oil and gas company, co-founded by London-based Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman.
A City insider told the Mail Lord Browne is drawing ‘huge sums’ for his role as the public face of Huawei in the UK.
Last year it was suggested by Baroness Wheatcroft, a former Fleet Street editor who had once sat on Huawei’s UK advisory board, that Lord Browne was little more than a well-salaried figurehead – or window dressing – as far as the Chinese were concerned.
‘At Huawei it would be astonishing if John Browne… had any hire-or-fire power,’ she said.
‘Huawei, like the Chinese government, believes in centralised control and that sits firmly in Shenzhen (Huawei’s HQ).
There may be not an iota of truth in the various allegations against Huawei but Browne has been keeping a discreet silence on the subject.’
Lord Browne is mentioned in the Steele dossier, but not as a target of the dark web campaign.
Another prominent and very well-connected public figure who sits as a non-executive director on the Huawei UK board is Sir Kenneth Olisa.
A venture capitalist by profession, Sir Kenneth is also Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, or the Queen’s representative in the capital.
Described as the most influential black man in Britain, he has rubbed shoulders with Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Queen herself.
His official duties include ‘upholding the dignity of the Crown’ in the promotion of civic, commercial, voluntary and social activities across 32 boroughs. He was appointed to the board of Huawei in 2018.
Sir Kenneth is one of the five Britons named in the Steele dossier as targets for the dark web campaign and is alleged to have appeared as a guest on a fake radio show.
The dossier said: ‘The targets did not know that the radio stations were fake and thought they were participating in interviews with online radio stations from Hong Kong, Belgium, India and Austria.’
Sir Kenneth rejects the claims, telling the Mail: ‘I was surprised to discover I turned up on radio shows in India and I’d love to hear the recording.’
But former Cabinet Minister David Davis said last night of Sir Kenneth’s position on the Huawei board: ‘It strikes me as entirely inappropriate for the Queen’s representative to serve on the board of a company like Huawei, which is widely accepted, if not to be the arm of a foreign power, then heavily influenced by the Communist party of China.
‘The only service he can provide to Huawei is to give them some added respectability which is not what the Queen’s representative should be doing.’
Another knight of the realm with a stellar contacts list who is on the board of Huawei UK and named in the dossier as a manipulation target is Sir Michael Rake, former head of the CBI.
Pictured: Sir Michael Rake, former head of the CBI, who is on the board of Huawei UK and named in the dossier as a manipulation target
A trustee of The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation and Chairman of Great Ormond Street Hospital, for 32 years Sir Michael worked at accounting giant KPMG.
When he stepped down as chairman in 2007 – taking home more than £4million that year – he took up the same role at telecoms leviathan BT.
Two years earlier BT had struck up a ‘landmark partnership agreement’ with Huawei. During Sir Michael’s ten years in charge that partnership blossomed.
At the beginning of last year when the political storm was growing, Huawei appointed him as an adviser – he had previously advised David Cameron.
This April the relationship was further cemented when Sir Michael became the latest addition to its UK board.
Sir Michael said of the allegations that he had been ‘targeted’ by a sinister campaign of influence: ‘I have had no contact with any third-party organisation or social media purporting to support Huawei.’
In an appearance on the Today programme in January, the other British non-executive director, Sir Andrew Cahn, defended the firm as being ‘the John Lewis of China’.
Sir Andrew has had a long relationship with Huawei, having served on its advisory board from 2011-2014.
Prior to that he had spent five years in charge of the Government department which promotes exports and attracts foreign investment.
In 2015 he was appointed to the Huawei board when Lord Browne became chair. Sir Andrew is not mentioned in the Steele dossier.
John Suffolk is another former very senior civil servant who is now in the Huawei camp and was allegedly targeted by the dark web campaign.
He joined the firm in 2011 and is now head of global security.
Before that he was the UK Government’s chief information officer.
Last year at a conference at Huawei’s Chinese HQ, which took place shortly after the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre had criticised the firm, Mr Suffolk said it was not in the company’s nature to be ‘aggressive’.
He has described as ‘nonsense’ the allegations that he had been targeted in some way.
Another of those allegedly targeted by operatives working for Huawei was Sarah Wollaston.
At the time she was MP for Totnes and, perhaps more significantly, the chair of the influential House of Commons Liaison Committee. This is made up of all 32 chairs of the select committees.
Another of those allegedly targeted by operatives working for Huawei was Sarah Wollaston (pictured)
But having left the Tories to join the Liberal Democrats via Change UK because of Brexit, she lost her seat at the last General Election.
She said she had turned down a plan for Huawei to sponsor an event at Parliament last year.
The fifth alleged target was Liberal Democrat peer and party spokesman for the digital economy Lord Clement-Jones.
The peer had been an adviser to Huawei but is no longer on the payroll. He refuted claims that he had appeared on fake radio shows to boost the firm, saying there was no need for elaborate clandestine methods because he had sat on Huawei’s international advisory board. His connection to the company is ‘well known’.
The executive summary of the dossier claims that the covert Huawei campaign arose as a result of the drive by former Chancellor George Osborne to encourage Chinese investment in the UK.
The dossier’s allegations will only intensify the diplomatic row over Huawei, which presents a serious threat to Britain-China relations.
Tory MP Bob Seely, co-ordinator of the Huawei Interest Group of 60 Tory MPs, said of the four British non-executive directors: ‘I don’t doubt that these people have all done impressive things with their lives which is why I think it is bizarre that they knowingly damage their reputations by allowing their names to be used to effectively launder the reparation of Huawei.’
Mr Seely (pictured), who also sits on the foreign affairs select committee, called for transparency from Huawei in terms of what the board members are paid and the exact nature of their work
Mr Seely, who also sits on the foreign affairs select committee, called for transparency from Huawei in terms of what the board members are paid and the exact nature of their work.
He added: ‘How do they feel now about having their names attached to a company which is to all intents and purposes part and parcel of the Chinese state?
‘If I were them, frankly I would consider resigning from the board.’