That Ex-Christie’s Staffer Accused of Being a Chinese Spy? One of His Jobs Was Guarding ‘Salvator Mundi’

The alleged spy had at least one high-profile security mission at the auction house.

Circled, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, standing in front of a member of security at the unveiling of Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi on October 15, 2017, at the Christie's showroom in Hong Kong. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images.

The former CIA officer suspected of leaking classified information to China was more than just a low-level staffer at Christie’s Hong Kong. Until last week, Jerry Chun Shing Lee was head of a small security team for the auction house—and even guarded the most expensive painting ever sold: Salvator Mundi.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Lee (aka Zheng Cheng Li) supervised a small security team charged with the physical safety of employees and property of the auction house, where he worked for 20 months. In a statement to artnet News, a Christie’s spokesperson confirmed that the former agent focused on security while working for the auction house but said his role “was not linked to data security or IT functions at the company.”

However, Christie’s trusted the alleged spy with at least one high-profile mission. In October 2017, the auction house tasked him with protecting the recently rediscovered Salvator Mundi, believed to be the last painting by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci. In a photograph dated October 15, 2017 (above), Lee is pictured within arm’s reach of the 500-year-old work while it was on display in Hong Kong, as part of an elaborate pre-sale media blitz. The work also went on view in San Francisco and London before returning to New York, where it fetched a record-breaking $450.3 million at the postwar and contemporary evening sale.

The former CIA agent was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on January 15, after it was discovered that he was in unauthorized possession of two small books with handwritten notes containing classified information about meetings with CIA informants, the real names and phone numbers of undercover agents, and the locations of covert facilities. He has been charged with the unlawful retention of classified information and faces a maximum of 10 years in jail if convicted.

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