A former Twitter employee has been sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for selling user data to the Saudi Royal Family.
Ahmad Abouammo, 45, had provided the Saudis with “confidential and sensitive information that could be used to identify and locate Twitter users of interest,” according to the Department of Justice.
In a statement about the sentencing, the Department of Justice said that Abouammo began receiving bribes from an official of the KSA as early as December 2014, while he was employed at Twitter as a Media Partnerships Manager for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
“Twitter policies required Abouammo to protect Twitter user information, as well as disclose conflicts of interest and report gifts from those with business with Twitter,” the DOJ noted. “Nevertheless, the evidence at trial demonstrated that Abouammo accepted bribes from officials of the KSA in exchange for accessing Twitter user accounts and conveying information on dissidents and critics of the KSA to their government officials and the Saudi Royal family, then lied to the FBI investigators and falsified a document when questioned about the transactions in October 2018. The official of the KSA was head of the ‘private office’ of a royal family member who, during the relevant time, was a Minister of State and then became the Minister of Defense and Deputy Crown Prince.”
Abouammo went to London and met with the foreign official in December 2014. The official provided Abouammo with a luxury Hublot watch that was worth over $40,000 — which he listed on Craigslist.
“After the meeting in London, Abouammo began repeatedly 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 KSA government,” the DOJ said. “Abouammo also continued to communicate with the official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including regarding the influential critical account.”
In February 2015, Abouammo went to Lebanon and opened a bank account in his father’s name and kept access to it. Later that month, the account received $100,000 from the foreign official.
“Abouammo laundered the money by sending it into the United States in small wire transfers with false descriptions,” according to the DOJ. “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.”
Abouammo was convicted of acting as a foreign agent without notice to the Attorney General, conspiracy, wire fraud, international money laundering and falsification of records in a federal investigation.
“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals by giving their personal information to a foreign power for profit. His conduct was made all the more egregious by the fact that the information was intended to target political dissidents speaking out against that foreign power,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division in a statement. “We are committed to holding accountable those who act unlawfully as unregistered foreign agents and advance hidden influence campaigns on behalf of foreign regimes.”
During sentencing the judge described Abouammo’s conduct as “serious” and “consequential” and stated that, “exposing dissident information is a serious offense.”
In addition to the jail time, the judge also issued a judgment for forfeiture of $242,000.
Abouammo was ordered to surrender on March 31, 2023, to begin serving his prison sentence.