A former employee of the short message service Twitter has been found guilty in the US for having sold personal data of possible opponents of the regime to Saudi Arabia. A jury in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday found Ahmad Abouammo guilty of money laundering, fraud and illegal work for a foreign government, among other things. The penalty will be determined later.
Abouammo was arrested in Seattle in November 2019. He and another Twitter employee at the time were accused of having been contacted by Saudi authorities in 2014 to only transmit internally accessible user data such as email addresses, phone numbers. and dates of birth, behind anonymous user accounts.
The data could have allowed Riyadh to identify previously anonymous government critics on the short message service. Abouammo, who left Twitter in 2015 to join e-commerce giant Amazon, received $100,000 in cash and a $40,000 watch.
Prosecutor Colin Sampson said in his closing argument that the accused “sold his position to an insider” close to Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.
Did only “small changes” flow?
Abouammo’s lawyer, Angela Chuang, on the other hand, said her client only accepted gifts from generous Saudis after he quit his job as a Twitter account manager. He accepted the $100,000 and the expensive watch; in Saudi culture, however, this is just a “small change”.
The international handling of the arch-conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is controversial because of the human rights situation there. According to US intelligence, Crown Prince Bin Salman personally approved the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
In July, US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron met the heir to the throne. The talks included Saudi Arabia as a possible supplier of oil to mitigate the energy crisis resulting from the Russian attack on Ukraine.