Twitter Ex-Employee Gets 3.5 Years in Prison for Spying for Saudi Arabia

A former Twitter manager convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 3.5 years in US. prison, prosecutors said on Wednesday. Ahmad Abouammo had been found guilty by a jury in August following a trial in San Francisco federal court. He had faced a 10-year prison sentence on one count and 20-year sentences each on several other charges.

Starting as early as 2014, Abouammo accepted bribes from Saudi officials, prosecutors said. At Twitter, he helped oversee relationships with journalists and celebrities in the Middle East and North Africa. He was convicted of conveying sensitive information from the company's systems to help Saudi officials identify and locate Twitter users of interest.

Federal public defenders representing Abouammo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Twitter, recently taken over by Elon Musk, also did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Prosecutors 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.

Prosecutors said Abouammo received at least $300,000 (roughly Rs. 25 crore) and a $20,000 (roughly Rs. 16.5 lakh) luxury watch from Al-Asaker, and concealed the money by depositing it in a relative's account in Lebanon and having it wired to his own account in the United States. Defence lawyers had argued that the work Abouammo did at Twitter was simply part of his job.

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.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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