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Former Twitter employee convicted in Saudi spying case

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A former Twitter employee was convicted Tuesday on six criminal counts, including acting as an agent for Saudi Arabia and trying to disguise a payment from an official tied to Saudi Arabia's royal family.

Ahmad Abouammo, a U.S. resident born in Egypt, faces 10 to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced. He worked at Twitter as a media partnerships manager and helped “prominent figures in the Middle East and North Africa promote their accounts,” according to the Verge.

The verdict comes as the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia remains fraught. President Biden made his first visit as president to the kingdom last month, exchanging a fist bump with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Prosecutors said Bader Al-Asaker, a close adviser to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, used Abouammo to access Twitter accounts and dig up personal information about Saudi dissidents.

The prosecution presented evidence that Abouammo received at least $300,000 and a $20,000 luxury watch from Al-Asaker and hid the money by depositing it in a relative's account, reports CNN. “Power. Greed. Lies. You heard this story, told by the evidence, here in this courtroom,” said Eric Cheng, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Abouammo’s lawyers argued that he was simply a Twitter employee who had been doing his job. Angela Chuang, a federal public defender representing Abouammo, told jurors the trial was a result of the U.S. government and Twitter needing “a way to save face.” According to Bloomberg, Chuang argued that the real target of the investigation — a former Twitter engineer — was allowed to flee to Saudi Arabia despite being under surveillance.

One juror told Abouammo’s lawyers that she wished Twitter had “a little more responsibility for this.” A Twitter spokeswoman said the company cooperated with law enforcement and notified users who might have been affected, writes the New York Times.

"The government demonstrated, and the jury found, that Abouammo violated a sacred trust to keep private personal information from Twitter's customers and sold private customer information to a foreign government," U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement.

Abouammo worked at Twitter from 2013 to 2015 and was initially arrested in 2019.

The case is U.S. v. Abouammo, 19-cr-00621, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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