US jury to decide whether Twitter worker spied for Saudi royal family

US jury to decide whether Twitter worker spied for Saudi royal family

Jurors in a San Francisco court on Thursday began deliberating the fate of a former Twitter worker accused of taking bribes from Saudi Arabia to unmask his critics on the platform.

Prosecutors said Ahmed Abuammo sold Twitter user information for cash and an expensive watch about seven years ago, while his defense team claimed he did nothing more than accept gifts from free-spending Saudis to do his client management work.

“The evidence shows that, for a price and without anyone watching, the defendant sold his position to an insider at Crown Prince,” U.S. Prosecutor Colin Sampson said in closing remarks to the jury.

Defense attorney Angela Chuang countered that in what appeared to be a conspiracy to leak information about Saudi critics from Twitter nearly 7 years ago, prosecutors failed to prove Abuammo was part of it.

“It’s abundantly clear that the people the government really wants are not here, because they messed up,” Chuang told jurors.

Chuang admitted that Abuammo violated Twitter employee rules by not telling the San Francisco-based company that he had received $100,000 in cash and a $40,000 watch from someone close to the Saudi crown prince.

However, he downplayed the gift’s significance, saying it amounted to “pocket change” in a Saudi culture known for generosity and lavish gifts.

Prosecutors say Ahmed Abuammo sold Twitter user information for cash, while his defense says he simply accepted a generous gift from free-spending Saudis. Prosecutors say Ahmed Abuammo sold Twitter user information for cash, while his defense says he simply accepted a generous gift from free-spending Saudis. Photo: AFP/Olivier Dauliary

Abuammo was arrested in Seattle in November 2019 on multiple charges, including being an illegal agent of a foreign government.

Prosecutors accused Abuammo and fellow Twitter activist Ali Alzabarah of being enlisted by Saudi officials to obtain personal information about accounts that had been shut down for posts critical of the regime in late 2014 and early the following year.

Twitter employees at the time could have used their credentials to collect email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and other personal data to identify the people behind the anonymous accounts, prosecutors said.

“The evidence you heard was that the defendant, who was greatly trusted by Twitter, sold his access to officials in Saudi Arabia,” Sampson said.

Abuammo left Twitter in 2015 and took a job at e-commerce titan Amazon in Seattle, where he lives, according to court documents.

Aljabarah, a Saudi national, is wanted for allegedly failing to register in the United States as an agent of a foreign government under United States law, according to an FBI statement.

Chuang told jurors that prosecutors were trying to punish Abuammo for Aljabarah’s actions.

“Mr. Aljabarah is not sitting at the table as much as the government would like,” Chuang told jurors.

“And it’s on them, they allowed Mr. Aljabarah to flee the country while under FBI surveillance.”

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