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Ex-Twitter employee took bribes to obtain user data for Saudi official

A former Twitter employee who accessed the confidential data of “users of interest” to the royal household of Saudi Arabia in trade for bribes was sentenced Thursday to three and a half years in federal jail.

Ahmad Abouammo, 45, was convicted in August of performing as an unregistered agent of a overseas authorities, worldwide cash laundering and falsification of data in a federal investigation, in accordance to the U.S. lawyer’s workplace for the Northern District of California. He was acquitted of a number of wire fraud and trustworthy providers fraud expenses.

“This case revealed that foreign governments will bribe insiders to obtain the user information that is collected and stored by our Silicon Valley social media companies,” U.S. Atty. Stephanie M. Hinds mentioned in a launch.

Abouammo, previously of Walnut Creek, Calif., and later a Seattle resident, had been employed with Twitter as a media partnerships supervisor for the Middle East and North Africa.

Beginning in late 2014, he started receiving bribes from a Saudi official in trade for accessing and offering data about Twitter customers who have been dissidents and critics of the country, officers mentioned.

Saudi Arabia has handed down decades-long jail sentences over feedback on social media in its crackdown on dissent, drawing widespread backlash over human rights abuses — particularly after Saudi safety brokers in 2018 killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who had written critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Federal prosecutors mentioned the Saudi official who met with Abouammo gave him a luxurious Hublot watch in London in December 2014. Abouammo then supplied the watch for sale on Craigslist for $42,000.

After the assembly, Abouammo started repeatedly accessing info from Twitter accounts, “at least one of which was the account of an influential user who was critical of members of the Saudi Royal Family and the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] government,” prosecutors wrote.

The official who met with Abouammo was the “head of a ‘private office’ of a royal family member” who was a minister of state on the time and went on to turn out to be the minister of protection and deputy crown prince, prosecutors mentioned.

After the assembly in London, Abouammo continued to talk with the Saudi official concerning the “influential critical account” and others, in accordance to the U.S. lawyer’s workplace.

In 2015, a checking account was opened in Lebanon within the title of Abouammo’s father shortly after Abouammo had traveled there. The account then acquired a deposit of $100,000 from the Saudi official.

“Abouammo laundered the money by sending it into the United States in small wire transfers with false descriptions,” prosecutors mentioned.

Another $100,000 was deposited into the account shortly after Abouammo left Twitter.

When questioned by the FBI concerning the transactions, Abouammo offered a faux bill for one of many funds, prosecutors mentioned.

Abouammo was arrested in November 2019.

“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals living in the U.S. by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit,” Assistant Atty. Gen. Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division mentioned within the launch.

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