Trial of ex-Twitter employee accused of spying heads to jury

SAN FRANCISCO — For the past two weeks, Ahmad Abouammo’s attorneys have described him as a dutiful Twitter employee caught in the crosshairs of law enforcement while managing media partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa. Prosecutors said he had misused the job to spy for Saudi Arabia.

Abouammo’s trial headed to jury deliberations Thursday afternoon after prosecutors and defense attorneys offered their accounts of grieving the former Twitter employee. He is accused of obtaining personal information from political dissidents and sharing it with Saudi Arabia in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars and a luxury watch.

In 2019, Mr. Abouammo was arrested and charged with committing wire fraud as well as acting as an agent of a foreign government without disclosing that job. Ali Alzabarah, a former colleague of Mr. Abouammo who fled the country, was also charged.

“Power. Greed. Lies. You heard this story, told by the evidence here in this courtroom,” said Eric Cheng, an assistant US attorney.

Prosecutors said the plot began when Abouammo met with Bader Binasaker, a top adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. At the time, Binasaker was operating as a foreign government official and Abouammo knew about it, prosecutors said. They continued to communicate with each other and then met in London, where Mr. Binasaker presented Mr. Abouammo with a luxury watch.

“The kingdom had now secured its inside information from Twitter,” Cheng said.

Over the following months, prosecutors said, Abouammo used Twitter tools to access the personal information of users such as the pseudonymous Mujtahidd, a critic of the Saudi government whose Twitter account Binasaker wanted to suspend. In exchange for access to that information, Mr. Abouammo received wire transfers from Mr. Binasaker, prosecutors said.

In effect, Saudi Arabia had “paid for a mole,” Cheng said.

But Abouammo’s lawyers argued that he was just a Twitter employee doing his job, not a Saudi spy. Prosecutors used “fragments that they specifically took out of context and tried to piece together to create the image they want you to see,” said Angela Chuang, a federal public defender representing Abouammo and the lead attorney in the case.

Abouammo’s lawyers said his duties at Twitter included developing relationships with prominent people in the Middle East and investigating accounts that received persistent complaints, such as Mujtahidd’s. His lawyers said that Mr. Abouammo had performed those duties, but that the government had no evidence that he later shared user information with Mr. Binasaker.

“Possibly seen does not mean that the private information has been passed on to someone else,” Ms. Chuang said.

Mr. Abouammo’s lawyers also said that although he had connected Mr. Binasaker with Mr. Alzabarah, his former colleague, he had not been involved in any plot between the two men. Abouammo was not responsible for Alzabarah’s actions, his lawyers said.

“A filing does not amount to a conspiracy,” Ms. Chuang said.

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