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Ex Twitter employee found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia

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An ex-Twitter employee has been found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia as he passed on private user information like email and phone numbers of accounts that criticized the Kingdom to an official affiliated with that country’s government.

Ahmad Abouammo, 44, a former Twitter Inc. employee, upon passing on the private user information associated with critics of the kingdom in exchange for a luxury watch and hundreds of thousands of dollars, reported by the agencies.

He was also found guilty of money laundering, falsification of records and one count of wire fraud by the 11-person jury in San Francisco federal courthouse on Tuesday.

Abouammo was found innocent on five other counts of wire fraud. Abouammo worked at Twitter from 2013 to 2015 while managing media partnerships with high-profile users in the Middle East and North Africa.

As per the media reports, he repeatedly accessed the email accounts and phone numbers of accounts that criticized the Saudi government, including the anonymously run account “mujtahidd,” prosecutors said. Prosecutor Eric Cheng in closing arguments last week, had said that Abouammo took bribes close to three times his annual salary for almost a year.

“We all know that that kind of money is not for nothing.” However, Twitter declined to comment on the episode. Abouammo is scheduled to be back in court on Wednesday for a hearing.

The US government said Abouammo, a dual U.S. and Lebanese citizen, had been recruited into the scheme by a man named Bader Binasaker, who was rising in the ranks of the Saudi government.

Abouammo, a husband and father of three, was charged in 2019 in Seattle where he lived at the time and was working as a social media consultant after three years at Amazon Inc.

He had pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors said the scheme began in the summer of 2014 when Abouammo met Binasaker, an aide to then-Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during a tour of Twitter’s headquarters. The two began cultivating a relationship shortly thereafter.

About six months later, in December, Abouammo met Binasaker in London while on a work trip. He flew back to the U.S. with a luxury watch worth more than USD 40,000, the government said. “That luxury watch–it was not free,” Eric Cheng said. “The kingdom had now secured its Twitter insider.”

US government said that Abouammo also involved one of his colleagues, Ali Alzabarah, who performed website maintenance for Twitter, introducing him to Binasaker.

The Justice Department charged Alzabarah and another man, Ahmed Almutairi, with acting as illegal agents of a foreign government for their alleged roles in giving private Twitter user information to Saudi Arabia.

Almutairi, a Saudi citizen, controlled a social-media company that worked for the Saudi royal family and helped recruit Abouammo into the scheme, the U.S. government said, as per media reports.

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