Former Twitter employee convicted for spying for Saudi Arabia
Ahmad Abouammo is convicted for obtaining information about dissidents, using Twitter as a spying tool without official disclosure.
A former Twitter employee was convicted Tuesday of charges related to spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Ahmad Abouammo, a 44-year-old dual US-Lebanese citizen, obtained information on dissidents who used the platform.
Abouammo was found guilty on 6 of 11 counts by a San Fransico federal jury, after a trial that lasted three weeks. One of the counts was acting as an agent for a foreign government without notifying US officials.
This would mark the first reported time Riyadh is connected to a spying case in the US, according to AP.
In 2019, Abouammo and two others, Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi, were charged with an indictment for acting as agents for Riyadh without notification to the attorney general as required by law, according to the US Attorney Office.
According to Reuters, Abouammo helped oversee relationships on Twitter with journalists and celebrities in the Middle East and North Africa.
Abouammo was convicted on two counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, one count of falsifying records, and one count of acting as an agent for a foreign country with no disclosure. However, the jury found him not guilty on 5 counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In addition, he was also charged with obstruction of justice for providing false documents to the FBI about his payments from a Riyadh official.
Prosecutors divulge that Mohammed bin Salman's advisor handed Abouammo a minimum amount of $300,000 along with a $20,000 luxury watch, according to Reuters. Abouammo has been hiding the spy money by depositing it in a relative's account in Lebanon, and having it wired to his own account in the US.
"The government demonstrated, and the jury found, that Abouammo violated a sacred trust to keep private personal information from Twitter's customers and sold private customer information to a foreign government," US Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement, per Reuters.
US-KSA diplomatic struggle
The allegations resurfaced in light of US President Joe Biden's first visit to the country, which he had previously sworn to make a "pariah", last week, in the hopes of establishing better Saudi-Israeli relations and relief from high gas prices.
Biden met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and other Saudi officials. Human rights campaigners, meanwhile, slammed the visit, accusing the President of ignoring the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist killed by Saudi operatives in 2018.
Abouammo and another former Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, were charged in 2019. According to the Justice Department, the individuals exploited their Twitter accounts to gather information about thousands of people, which they then provided to Ahmed Almutairi, who the department claims served as their go-between with Saudi officials.
It is worth mentioning that Almutairi previously owned a social media marketing firm that provided services to the Saudi royal family.
According to the Justice Department, the men obtained "private user data, such as device identifiers, phone numbers, and IP addresses, all of which may have been utilized by the Saudi government to identify and locate the individuals behind the accounts, including political dissidents."
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