Former Twitter Manager Convicted for Spying for Saudi Royal Family
A former Twitter manager was sentenced Wednesday to 3 1/2 years in prison for spying and funneling private information about dissidents to the Saudi royal family.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen handed down a 42-month sentence for Ahmad Abouammo, who was convicted in August after a two-week trial.
“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,” said Stephanie Hinds, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
Abouammo, 45, who lived in Walnut Creek before moving to Seattle, began receiving bribes from an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as early as 2014, prosecutors said.
At the time, Abouammo was Twitter’s Media Partnerships Manager for the Middle East/North Africa region.
Prosecutors said the company’s policies required him to protect Twitter user information, to disclose conflicts of interest, and to report gifts from those with business with Twitter.
Abouammo, however, accepted bribes from Saudi Arabia officials in exchange for identifying information on dissidents and critics of the regime, according to prosecutors.
Evidence at trial showed a foreign official met with Abouammo in London in December 2014 and gave him a luxury Hublot watch, which Abouammo later listed for sale on Craigslist for $42,000. After that, Abouammo began accessing private information about several 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 government, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The official from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was head of the “private office” of a royal family member who was a minister of state and then became the minister of defense and deputy crown prince, according to prosecutors.
A bank account was opened in the name of Abouammo’s father in Lebanon, and he obtained access to that bank account. The account then received $100,000 in February 2015 from the foreign official. Prosecutors said Abouammo laundered the money by sending it into the United States in small wire transfers with false descriptions.
The account received another $100,000 shortly after Abouammo left Twitter for other employment, accompanied by a note from the official apologizing for the delayed payment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In October 2018, FBI agents interviewed Abouammo at his residence about his involvement in the scheme with officials of the KSA. Evidence at trial showed that Abouammo provided false information to the FBI investigators and provided a false invoice for one of the payments he received from the foreign official.
“Abouammo acted in secret as an agent of a foreign government targeting dissenting voices,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “This verdict shows that the Justice Department will not tolerate any act of transnational repression and will hold accountable those who aid hostile regimes in extending their reach to our shores.”
Abouammo was arrested in November 2019 and was charged in 2020 with multiple crimes that include acting as an agent of a foreign government without providing notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, wire fraud, and international money laundering.
In August, a jury acquitted Abouammo of five counts wire fraud and honest services counts and returned a verdict of guilty on all the remaining counts.
In sentencing Abouammo, Judge Chen described Abouammo’s conduct as “serious” and “consequential” and stated that, “exposing dissident information is a serious offense.”
In addition to the 42-month prison term, the judge sentenced Abouammo to three years supervision following release from prison; issued a judgment for forfeiture of $242,000, representing the watch and cash received by Abouammo as bribes; and ordered Abouammo to surrender on March 31, 2023, to begin serving his prison sentence.