Ex-Twitter manager gets over 3 years in prison for spying for Saudi Arabia

A San Francisco federal court found a former Twitter manager guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia and was finally sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. Ahmad Abouammo was employed by Twitter between 2013 and 2015, during which time he reportedly used his position as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa to access personal information of users critical of the Saudi government and passed it to Saudi officials.

Abouammo reportedly received a $42,000 watch as a gift from a Saudi official, as well as two $100,000 wire transfers starting as early as 2014. In exchange he looked up information on two Twitter users, including phone numbers and birth dates. After leaving the company in 2015 Abouammo continued to attempt to influence Twitter to verify Saudi accounts or remove posts highlighted by the Saudi government, according to testimony from an FBI agent in San Francisco court. 

Prosecutors in the case had argued that Bader Al-Asaker, a close adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recruited Abouammo to use his insider knowledge to access Twitter accounts and dig up personal information about Saudi dissidents.

Those accounts allegedly included @mujtahidd, a pseudonym for a political agitator who gained millions of Twitter followers in the Arab Spring uprisings by accusing the Saudi royal family of corruption and other misdeeds.

Abouammo was also convicted of wire fraud and honest services fraud, money laundering and a conspiracy charge.

Ali Alzabarah, a former colleague of Abouammo also accused of accessing Twitter accounts on behalf of Saudi Arabia, left the US before being charged. Al-Asaker, Saudi’s crown prince and Twitter are not among the defendants.

Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company, which is 16.9 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund are reportedly second largest investor in Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover of the company. The US officials are reportedly contemplating an investigation to probe if users’ data can be compromised by individuals based out of Saudi Arabia. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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