Ex-Twitter executive spied for key US ally – court — Analysis
San Francisco jurors convict a former Twitter employee of fraud, and acting as an agent to a foreign country
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 (US-Lebanese dual citizen) was charged with overseeing relationships between journalists and celebrities from the Middle East or North Africa. A copy of the verdict shows that he faced eleven charges. These included fraud, money laundering, and working as an unregistered agent for foreign governments. Six of those were found guilty.
Prosecutors allege that Abouammo (44) received over $300,000 and a watch at more than $20,000 from Saudi Arabia in exchange for information about their government critics, including their phone numbers, email addresses, birth dates, and any other data to help identify those behind anonymous accounts.
“The evidence shows the defendant, thinking that no one was looking, sold his position for a fee to an insider at 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 his job as a client manager, noting the gifts were “pocket change”Saudi culture is known for its generosity and extravagant presents.
Although there appeared to have been a conspiracy to gain revealing information from Saudi critics through Twitter, it was not proved beyond reasonable doubt by prosecutors that Abouammon took part, according to his defense attorney.
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.
Alzabarah managed to flee from the US in the family of his parents before Abouammo was detained by federal agents on November 19, 2019.
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