Former Twitter employee convicted of charges related to spying for Saudis

(Photo: NYTimes)
SAN FRANCISCO, United State — A former Twitter employee was convicted on Tuesday by a jury in US federal court of six charges related to accusations that he spied on the company’s users for Saudi Arabia.اضافة اعلان

While at Twitter, Ahmad Abouammo, 44, managed media partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa. He developed relationships with prominent individuals in the region, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and a luxury watch from a top adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In return, prosecutors said, he shared the personal user information of dissidents with Saudi officials.

The jury convicted Abouammo of two counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, one count of falsifying records, and one count of acting as an agent of a foreign government without properly disclosing that work. It found Abouammo not guilty on five counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The verdict comes at a fraught moment between the US and Saudi Arabia, as the US seeks closer Saudi-Israeli relations and relief from high gas prices. President Joe Biden made his first visit as president to the kingdom last month, setting aside a promise to make it a “pariah” and exchanging a fist bump with the crown prince.

Abouammo’s trial concluded on Thursday, and the jury of six men and five women took 17 hours to reach a verdict. On Monday, prosecutors and Abouammo’s lawyers agreed to allow 11 jurors to decide the case after the 12th member of the jury had been excused for testing positive for the coronavirus.

After the verdict was read on Tuesday, three jurors answered questions from the defense team, saying they had deliberated the longest over the charge that Abouammo had acted as an agent of a foreign government. The jury reached a unanimous decision on that count Tuesday morning, the jurors said. One juror told Abouammo’s lawyers that she wished Twitter had taken “a little more responsibility for this”.

A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment on the verdict.

Abouammo, who worked at Twitter from 2013 to 2015, was arrested in 2019. Ali Alzabarah, another former Twitter employee who was also charged in the scheme, fled the country before he could be arrested. Several of the charges of which Abouammo was acquitted were related to communications between Alzabarah and Saudi officials, suggesting that the jury was not convinced that Abouammo had influenced his co-worker’s actions.

Prosecutors described Abouammo as a mole who had sold his access to personal user information to Saudi Arabia.

Abouammo repeatedly looked up personal information for the Twitter user behind an account known as Mujtahidd, as well as for other dissidents, prosecutors said. The Mujtahidd account is critical of Saudi leadership and has more than two million followers on Twitter. Prosecutors said Saudi representatives had paid $300,000 to Abouammo for the information.

Lawyers for Abouammo described him as merely a Twitter employee who had been doing his job. Other media-partnerships managers at Twitter also developed close relationships with influential people who used the platform and provided white-glove service, helping them become verified on Twitter and handling their complaints about impersonators and troublesome accounts, Abouammo’s defense argued.

Prosecutors had not connected Abouammo’s accessing information and receiving payments with actual sharing of that information, his lawyers said.

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