A former Twitter employee took bribes to obtain user data for a Saudi official

A former Twitter employee who accessed confidential data of “users of interest” to the Saudi royal family in exchange for bribes was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison on Thursday.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, was found guilty in August of acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government, international money laundering and falsifying documents in a federal investigation, according to the prosecutor’s office American from the Northern District of California. He was acquitted of multiple charges of wire fraud and honest services fraud.

“This case revealed that foreign governments would bribe insiders to obtain user information that is collected and stored by our Silicon Valley social media companies,” US Atty said. Stephanie M. Hinds said in a statement.

Abouammo, formerly of Walnut Creek, Calif., and later a resident of Seattle, had been employed by Twitter as head of media partnerships for the Middle East and North Africa.

Beginning in late 2014, he began receiving bribes from a Saudi official in exchange for accessing and providing data on Twitter users who were dissidents and critics of the country, officials said.

Saudi Arabia has handed down decades-long prison sentences for comments on social media in its crackdown on dissent, sparking a widespread backlash against human rights abuses – especially after Saudi security agents in 2018 killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who had written criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Federal prosecutors said the Saudi official who met Abouammo gave him a luxury Hublot watch in London in December 2014. Abouammo then offered the watch for sale on Craigslist for $42,000.

After the meeting, Abouammo began repeatedly accessing information from Twitter accounts, “at least one of which was the account of an influential user who was critical of members of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia. [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] government,” prosecutors wrote.

The official who met Abouammo was the “head of a ‘private office’ of a member of the royal family” who was minister of state at the time and became minister of defense and deputy crown prince, have prosecutors said.

After the meeting in London, Abouammo continued to communicate with the Saudi official about the “influential critical account” and others, according to the US attorney’s office.

In 2015, a bank account was opened in Lebanon in the name of Abouammo’s father shortly after Abouammo visited there. The account then received a $100,000 deposit from the Saudi official.

“Abouammo laundered the money by sending it to the United States in small wire transfers with false descriptions,” prosecutors said.

Another $100,000 was deposited into the account shortly after Abouammo left Twitter.

When questioned by the FBI about the transactions, Abouammo provided a false invoice for one of the payments, prosecutors said.

Abouammo was arrested in November 2019.

“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed in him to protect the privacy of individuals living in the United States by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in the statement.

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