Ex-Twitter employee from Seattle convicted of spying for Saudi royals

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A former Twitter employee has been convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia by sharing personal information of platform users who used anonymous names to criticize the kingdom and its royal family.

Ahmad Abouammo, an Egyptian-born US citizen who was living in Seattle when he was arrested in November 2019, was found guilty by a jury Tuesday on charges including serving as an agent for Saudi Arabia, money laundering, conspiracy to wire fraud and counterfeiting Records. after a two-week trial in federal court in San Francisco. If convicted, he faces 10 to 20 years in prison.

Abouammo, a media partnerships manager for Twitter in 2015, claimed he was simply doing his job, making the burgeoning social media network in the Middle East and North Africa happen. Prosecutors claimed his relationship with a top aide to Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, now the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, went much further – and darker – to help the crown prince silence his critics bring.

The jury was presented with evidence that Abouammo had received a Hublot watch and $300,000 in wire transfers – which prosecutors say were bribes from MBS assistant Bader Al-Asaker in exchange for confidential Twitter account information on Saudi dissidents.

The trial came amid President Joe Biden’s fist-blow with the crown prince in mid-July to improve ties with Saudi Arabia, which Biden once described as a “pariah” nation after his agents killed Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered and dismembered in 2018.

A court ruling barred prosecutors from specifically telling the jury that the US and human rights organizations believe Saudi Arabia secretly detained and tortured its critics under MBS.

But they hinted at the brutal practices through an expert testifying about Saudi Arabia’s changing politics and culture, and through a woman who told jurors her brother remained silent in 2018 after tweeting satirical criticism of the country had posted.

Angela Chuang, a federal defense attorney representing Abouammo, told jurors the case was the result of a botched investigation and Twitter’s careless handling of its users’ data. Investigators allowed the real target of their investigation – Abouammo’s alleged co-conspirator Ali Alzabarah, who worked as an engineer at Twitter – to flee to Saudi Arabia despite surveillance, Chuang said.

“Both the government and Twitter need a way to save face,” Chuang told the jury. The US let its prime suspect escape and Twitter threw Abouammo “under the bus,” she said. “This case is the best you could come up with?” she asked.

In letters to the court, Abouammo’s relatives described him as a devoted father to his three children and that he came to the United States as a teenager and lived in Wenatchee for some time. Abouammo and his lawyers declined to comment on the verdict.

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