EA former employee of the short message service Twitter has been found guilty in the USA of having sold personal data of possible opponents of the regime to Saudi Arabia. A jury in San Francisco, California on Tuesday found Ahmad Abouammo guilty of money laundering, fraud and illegal agency work for a foreign government, among other things. The penalty will be determined at a later date.
Abouammo was arrested in Seattle in November 2019. He and another Twitter employee at the time were accused of having been contacted by Saudi officials in 2014 to only pass on internally accessible user data such as email addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth behind anonymous user accounts.
The data could have enabled Riyadh to identify hitherto anonymous government critics in 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 change” flow?
Abouammo’s lawyer Angela Chuang, on the other hand, said her client only accepted gifts from generous Saudis after he left his job as an account manager at Twitter. He accepted the $100,000 and the expensive watch; in the Saudi culture, however, this is merely “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 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
In July, both US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron met the heir to the throne. The talks included Saudi Arabia as a possible oil supplier to mitigate the energy crisis resulting from the Russian attack on Ukraine.