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10 Aug, 2022 11:43

Ex-Twitter executive spied for key US ally – court

A San Francisco jury finds a former Twitter employee guilty of fraud and acting as an agent of a foreign government
Ex-Twitter executive spied for key US ally – court

A San Francisco federal jury convicted a former Twitter manager of spying for Saudi Arabia and selling private user information to the kingdom’s government, in a ruling on Tuesday. 

Ahmad Abouammo is a US-Lebanese dual national whose job was to help oversee relationships with journalists and celebrities in the Middle East and North Africa. He faced 11 charges, which included money laundering, fraud and working as an illegal agent of a foreign government, and was found guilty on six of them, according to a copy of the verdict.

Prosecutors say that Abouammo, 44, received over $300,000 as well as a watch valued at over $20,000 from the Saudis in exchange for revealing information about critics of their government, such as their email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and other data used to identify people behind anonymous accounts.

"The evidence shows that, for a price and thinking no one was watching, the defendant sold his position to an insider of the crown prince," US prosecutor Colin Sampson said in final remarks to the California jury, referring to Bader Al-Asaker, a close adviser to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed to have been Abouammo’s employer.

Abouammo’s defense has maintained that he did nothing more than accept gifts from “free-spending Saudis” for doing his client management job, noting that the gifts were “pocket change” in Saudi culture, known for generosity and lavish presents.

While there did seem to be a conspiracy to obtain revealing information on Saudi critics from Twitter, prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Abouammon had any part in it, his defense attorney argued.

Nevertheless, Abouammo’s defense team conceded that their client had violated Twitter’s rules by not informing the company about receiving the cash and a watch from someone close to the Saudi crown prince.

The initial charges against Abouammo were brought in October 2018 along with another defendant in the case – Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi national who had also worked at Twitter’s San Francisco office and allegedly accessed the personal information of more than 6,000 accounts on behalf of Saudi Arabia.

While Abouammo was arrested by federal agents in November 2019, Alzabarah had managed to flee the US with his family before being confronted with the charges.