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Press Release

Former Twitter Employee Sentenced To 42 Months In Federal Prison For Acting As A Foreign Agent

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Defendant was Convicted After Trial of Participating in Fraudulent Scheme to Access, Monitor, And Convey User Information To Saudi Royal Family And The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia

SAN FRANCISCO – Ahmad Abouammo was sentenced today to 42 months in federal prison for his role 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, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, Matthew G. Olson, Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp.  The sentence was handed down by Senior United States District Judge Edward M. Chen who presided over the two-week trial that concluded in Abouammo’s conviction of the crimes.

“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.”

“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 Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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," said 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."

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.  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.  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.  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.

In October 2018, FBI agents interviewed Abouammo at his residence about his involvement in the scheme with officials of the KSA.  Evidence at trial showed that Abouammo provided false information to the FBI investigators and provided a false invoice for one of the payments he received from the foreign official.

Abouammo was arrested on November 5, 2019.  On July 28, 2020, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment charging him with acting as an agent of a foreign government without providing notice to the Attorney General, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 951; conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; six counts of honest services fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1346; six counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; international money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(B)(i); falsification of records in a federal investigation, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519;.  On August 9, 2022, the jury acquitted Abouammo of five of the wire fraud and honest services counts and returned a verdict of guilty on all the remaining counts.

In sentencing Abouammo, Judge Chen described Abouammo’s conduct as “serious” and “consequential” and stated that, “exposing dissident information is a serious offense.” In addition to the 42-month prison term, Judge Chen sentenced Abouammo to three years of supervision following release from prison; issued a judgment for forfeiture of $242,000, representing the watch and cash received by Abouammo as bribes; and ordered Abouammo to surrender on March 31, 2023, to begin serving his prison sentence.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colin Sampson and Eric Cheng and National Security Division Trial Attorney Christine Bonomo prosecuted the case with the assistance of Beth Margen and Alycee Lane.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Updated December 15, 2022