DOJ: Ex-Twitter employee sent user information to Saudi royal family

Crime

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(NewsNation) — A former Twitter employee has been sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison for accessing, monitoring and sending confidential information that could be used to identify and find Twitter users to the Saudi royal family, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, formerly of Walnut Creek and currently living in Seattle, was convicted in August of acting as a foreign agent without notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering and falsification of records following a federal investigation.

According to prosecutors, Abouammo started receiving bribes from an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as early as Dec. 2014 when he worked for Twitter as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Authorities report the official of the KSA was head of the private office of a royal family member who, at the time, was a minister of state and later became the minister of defense and deputy crown prince.

Twitter policies required Abouammo to disclose any conflicts of interest, report gifts from those doing business with Twitter and to protect user information. Evidence presented at Abouammo’s trial showed that he accepted bribes from officials with the KSA in exchange for access to certain Twitter accounts and information about critics of the KSA.

“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit. His conduct was made all the more egregious by the fact that the information was intended to target political dissidents speaking out against that foreign power,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security division.

According to the DOJ, the foreign KSA official met with Abouammo in London in Dec. 2014 and gave him a luxury Hublot watch. When trying to sell it on Craigslist later on, Abouammo referenced the value of the watch at $42,000.

Investigators say following the London meeting, Abouammo repeatedly accessed private information about several Twitter accounts, and that at least one of the accounts belonged to an influential user who had been critical of members of the Saudi royal family and KSA government. Abouammo is believed to have also continued to stay in touch with the KSA official about the specific account.

The DOJ says Abouammo traveled to Lebanon in 2015, where a bank account was opened in his father’s name that Abouammo could access. Records reflect that the bank account received $100,000 from the foreign official with the KSA. The money was later sent to the U.S. in small wire transfers with false descriptions.

After Abouammo left his position at Twitter for another job, the account received another $100,000 with a note from the official apologizing for a delayed payment.

When questioned about different transactions in 2018, Abouammo is accused of lying to FBI investigators and falsifying an invoice for one of the payments he received.

“This case exposes attempts by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to illegally obtain personally identifiable information in order to target critics and dissidents,” said Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “Anyone working to advance the agenda of a foreign government is required by law to register as a foreign agent of that country. Mr. Abouammo brazenly disregarded this law by exploiting his role at Twitter to not only locate and peddle user information, but to also launder money via the sale of gifts received from the Saudi Royal Family.”

The judge presiding over the case sentenced Abouammo to a 42-month prison term, three years of supervision following his release from prison and a forfeiture of $242,000 that represents the watch and money received by Abouammo as bribes. Abouammo has been ordered to start serving his prison sentence in March 2023.

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