(JTNews) – A former Twitter employee has learned his fate after being charged and convicted of illegally sharing user data with the royal government of Saudi Arabia. The Justice Department announced on Thursday that Senior United States District Judge Edward M. Chen handed down a sentence of 42 months to the former staffer.

United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, National Security Division Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olson, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp all stated in a DOJ release that Ahmad Abouammo, 45, who was employed by the platform as a media partnerships manager for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, played a role in assisting the “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.”

“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 U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds. “In handing down today’s sentence, 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 added.

“Mr. Abouammo violated the trust placed on him to protect the privacy of individuals living in the US 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 deny US persons of their lawful rights,” said Olsen. “We are committed to holding accountable those who act unlawfully as unregistered foreign agents and advance hidden influence campaigns on behalf of foreign regimes.”

“The FBI works tirelessly to ensure foreign governments and their agents cannot interfere with the constitutionally protected right to free speech,” noted FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. “Today’s sentence demonstrates the Bureau’s dedication to following all leads to ensure perpetrators of transnational repression are brought to justice.”

In its press release, the Justice Department provided more details about the case:

According to the evidence presented at trial, Abouammo, 45, formerly of Walnut Creek and currently residing in Seattle, began receiving bribes from an official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as early as December of 2014. Abouammo was employed at Twitter as a Media Partnerships Manager for the 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. 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.

“The evidence showed that the foreign official met with Abouammo in London in December 2014 and provided Abouammo with a luxury Hublot watch.,” the DOJ said. “Abouammo later referenced the value of the watch at $42,000 when offering it for sale 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,” noted the department.

“Abouammo also continued to communicate with the official of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, including regarding the influential critical account. Evidence at trial further showed that after Abouammo traveled to Lebanon in February 2015, a bank account was opened in the name of his father in Lebanon and Abouammo obtained access to that bank account,” said DOJ.

“The account then received $100,000 in February 2015 from the foreign official and 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,” the department added.

During sentencing, Chen described Abouammo’s conduct as “serious” and “consequential” and stated that “exposing dissident information is a serious offense.”

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