Ex  Twitter employee found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia

Ex Twitter employee found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia

Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on April 25, 2022. Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, April 25, 2022. JED JACOBSOHN/AP

A former Twitter employee was found guilty on Tuesday, August 9, of spying on users of the social network on behalf of Saudi Arabia who were trying to discover the identities of dissident figures and the royal family. A jury in a San Francisco court ruled that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Ahmad Abouammo sold personal information about anonymous users to Riyadh. The man, who lives in Seattle, would have received tens of thousands of dollars and a luxury watch for it.

“The evidence showed that the defendant sold his job for money and when he thought he was doing it out of sight [d’employé de Twitter] to a relative” of the Saudi royal family, federal prosecutor Colin Sampson told a jury last week after a two-week trial. Mr Abouammo faces between 10 and 20 years in prison for acting on behalf of a foreign government and for committing money laundering, fraud and forgery. His sentence will be announced at a later date.

The ruling comes after human rights defenders Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron criticized their diplomatic policies towards Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who was banned from the international scene after the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey .

Also read: Mohammed Bin Salman: an embarrassing visit

The other defendant was able to flee the United States before trial

Many NGOs regularly accuse the leader, nicknamed “MBS,” and his regime of spying on, kidnapping and torturing dissidents, which Riyadh denies.

Ahmad Abouammo was arrested in Seattle in November 2019. Prosecutors allege that he and another former Twitter employee, Ali Alzabarah, were approached by Riyadh in late 2014 and early 2015 to provide user data that can only be accessed internally (email address, phone number, date of birth, etc.). Mr Abouammo left Twitter in 2015. Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi, left the United States.

Angela Chuang, Ahmad Abouammo’s lawyer, acknowledged that a Saudi operation could have been set up seven years ago to obtain information about opponents from Twitter employees. But according to her, her client was tried instead of Mr Alzabarah. “It is evident that the defendants wanted by the government are not there,” she said. When asked by Agence France-Presse, Twitter declined to comment on the verdict.

The platform accuses its former employee of violating company rules by failing to explain to his bosses that he received $100,000 and a watch worth more than $40,000 from a close ally of the Saudi monarchy.

It is “pocket money” for Saudis used to wealth, Ms Chuang told jurors.

The world with AFP