A former Twitter employee was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison after he was convicted of accepting bribes and providing user data to Saudi Arabia’s Royal Family, the Justice Department announced on Thursday. Senior United States District Judge Edward M. Chen delivered the sentence.
United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, National Security Division Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olson, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp stated that Ahmad Abouammo, 45, who worked as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, had assisted in “accessing, monitoring, and conveying confidential and sensitive information that could be used to identify and locate Twitter users of interest to the Saudi Royal Family.”
During Abouammo’s two-week trial, the prosecution laid out evidence that the former Walnut Creek, California, resident had begun accepting bribes as far back as late 2014 from an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) — and without disclosing any of the gifts in accordance with Twitter rules, he had accessed sensitive user data in order to share information on political dissidents and critics of the Royal Family.
According to the DOJ report, the former Twitter employee had also lied about his involvement in the scheme when the FBI questioned him about it in 2018 — even providing authorities with a fake invoice supposedly accounting for payment he received from a Saudi official.
Some of the bribes Abouammo was convicted of receiving were a Hublot watch, valued at over $40,000, and two separate payments of $100,000, deposited in a Lebanese bank account in Abouammo’s father’s name — but that he was able to access.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Hinds said after the sentence was handed down, noting that Abouammo had been working with another person, but that person had fled the country to avoid prosecution.
“The Court emphasized that defendant shared the user information with a foreign government known for not tolerating dissidents, and he did so working with his even more culpable co-defendant who fled the country rather than face trial. This sentence sends a message to insiders with access to user information to safeguard it, particularly from repressive regimes, or risk significant time in prison,” she said.
In addition to his 42-month sentence, Judge Chen ordered Abouammo to consent to a subsequent three years of supervised release and forfeit assets in the amount of $242,000 to account for the direct payments and the watch.