A California man who formerly worked for Twitter was sentenced to 42 months of incarceration in a federal prison after he was found guilty of acting as a foreign agent.
Ahmad Abouammo, 45, formerly of Walnut Creek, California, but now living in Seattle, was found guilty of accessing, monitoring and conveying confidential and sensitive information to the Saudi Royal Family.
That information, according to a press release from the Department of Justice, could identify and locate Twitter users of interest for the Saudi royal family.
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Abouammo functioned as a foreign agent without notifying the attorney general, and was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering and falsifying records, by way of a two-week jury trial that ended on Aug. 9.
Abouammo previously worked as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East/North Africa region at Twitter.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said. “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.”
The DOJ said evidence presented during the trial showed Abouammo began accepting bribes from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as early as December 2014, when he worked at Twitter.
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Polices at the social media platform required Abouammo to protect Twitter user information, disclose conflicts of interest and report gifts from anyone who did business with the company.
Still, Abouammo accepted bribes from officials in exchange for accessing Twitter user accounts of people who were critical of the KSA.
When asked about the bribes, Abouammo lied to FBI investigators, the DOJ said, and falsified a document when questioned about the transactions in October 2018.
“The official of the KSA was head of the ‘private office’ of a royal family member who, during the relevant time, was a Minister of State and then became the Minister of Defense and Deputy Crown Prince,” the release read.
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Abouammo met with the foreign official in London in December 2014. During that meeting, the official gave Abouammo a luxury Hublot watch, which he said had a value of $42,000 when he tried to sell it on Craigslist.
After that meeting, the DOJ said, Abouammo started to access confidential information about several accounts. One of those accounts was an influencer who was critical of members of the Saudi royal family and the KSA government.
Abouammo continued to communicate with the official about the account and at one point traveled to Lebanon in February 2015 to open an account in the name of his father before receiving $100,000 from the official.
After receiving the money, the DOJ said, Abouammo laundered it into the U.S. in small wire transfers with false descriptions. The account received another $100,000 after Abouammo departed Twitter for another job. With the transaction, the official apologized for the delayed payment.
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The press release said in October 2018, the FBI interviewed Abouammo at his home about his involvement in the scheme, and evidence presented in court showed he provided false information. For example, Abouammo gave a false invoice for one of the payments he accepted from the foreign official.
During his sentencing on Thursday, Judge Raymond Chen described Abouammo’s conduct as “serious” and “consequential,” adding that “exposing dissident information is a serious offense.”
Along with the 42-month prison sentence, Chen ordered Abouammo to three years of supervision following his release as well as judgment to forfeit $242,000, which represented the watch’s value and the $200,000 he received from the foreign official.
Abouammo is expected to begin his prison sentence on March 31, 2023.
Another former Twitter employee, Saudi citizen Ali Alzabarah, was accused of accessing the private information of thousands of Twitter accounts for Saudi Arabia in 2015, including one that belonged to Omar Abdulaziz, who is critical of the Saudi government.
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