SAN FRANCISCO — A former Twitter employee was found guilty Tuesday by a federal jury on six counts related to accusations that he spied on the company’s users for Saudi Arabia.
During his time at Twitter, Ahmad Abouammo, 44, managed media partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa. He developed relationships with prominent figures in the region and received hundreds of thousands of dollars and luxury watches from the Supreme Advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In return, prosecutors said he shared the dissident’s personal user information with Saudi authorities.
A jury found Mr. Abouammo guilty of two counts of wire fraud or attempted wire fraud. count of money laundering, count of falsification of records, and count of acting on behalf of a foreign government without proper disclosure of its work. Abouammo was acquitted of five counts of wire fraud or conspiracy to wire fraud.
The verdict comes at a moment of tension between the United States and Saudi Arabia as the United States seeks closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel and relief from skyrocketing gas prices. President Biden made his first visit to the kingdom as president last month, putting aside his promises to make him an “outcast” and tossing a fist with the crown prince.
The visit was heavily criticized by human rights activists for reducing the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated by Saudi agents in 2018.
Abouammo’s trial ended Thursday, and it took a jury of six men and five women 17 hours to come to a verdict. On Monday, prosecutors and Abuanmo’s lawyer agreed to allow an 11-member jury to decide the case after a 12th member of the jury was exempted from testing positive for coronavirus.
After the verdict was read out on Tuesday, three jurors answered questions from the defense team and said they had deliberated the longest on charges that Abuanmo had acted as an agent of a foreign government. A unanimous decision was reached on the count on Tuesday morning, a jury said.
A Twitter spokesperson said the company cooperated with law enforcement during the trial and notified users who may have been affected.
Abouammo, who worked at Twitter from 2013 to 2015, was arrested in 2019. Ali Alzabarah, also a former Twitter employee, was charged with the scheme but fled the country before being arrested. Several of the charges for which Abouammo was acquitted related to communications between Alzabarah and Saudi officials. This suggests that jurors were not convinced that Abouammo had influenced the actions of his colleagues.
Prosecutors described Abouammo as a spy who sold access to users’ personal information to Saudi Arabia.
“Power. Greed. Lies. You’ve heard this story told by the evidence in this courtroom,” U.S. Assistant Attorney Eric Chen said in his closing remarks.
In a statement, US Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie Hines said: We transmit customer information to foreign governments. ”
“As this case demonstrates, we do not tolerate the misuse of personal information or attempts by foreign governments to recruit covert and malicious agents of American technology companies,” she added.
Abouamo repeatedly examined personal information of Twitter users behind the account known as Mujtahid, as well as other dissidents, prosecutors said. Mujtahidd’s account is critical of the Saudi leader and has more than 2 million followers on Twitter. Prosecutors said Saudi representatives paid Abouamo his $300,000 for the information.
Twitter security executive Seth Wilson, who testified in court that Abouamo’s access to users’ information was inappropriate, said: murmured his gratitude for the verdict. “It’s been a long road to this conviction,” writes Wilson. “I appreciate the efforts of so many people to make sure justice is done.”
Abouammo’s lawyers described Abouammo as merely a Twitter employee at work. Abouamo’s defense said Twitter’s other media partnership managers also used the platform to build close relationships with powerful people who offer sophisticated services, helping them get authenticated on Twitter, It claimed to have addressed complaints about impersonation and troublesome accounts.
Prosecutors did not link Abouammo’s access to the information and receipt of payment to the fact that the information was actually shared, his attorney said.
Angela Chuang, the federal public defender representing Abuanmo and lead attorney in the case, said: , must vote not guilty.” Abouamo’s other attorney, Jerome Matthews, declined to comment on the ruling.