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Former Twitter employee sentenced to more than three years in prison in Saudi spy case

By Hannah Rabinowitz and Devan Cole, CNN

A former Twitter manager convicted of spying for Saudi Arabia was sentenced on Wednesday to more than three years in prison.

Ahmad Abouammo, a dual US-Lebanese citizen, was convicted earlier this year of six criminal counts, including acting as an agent for Saudi Arabia and trying to disguise a payment from an official tied to the country’s royal family.

US District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco sentenced Abouammo to 42 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $242,000 to cover the cost of bribes he received for his work, the DOJ said in a statement. Abouammo will begin his prison sentence in March.

CNN has reached out to an attorney for Abouammo for comment.

During his sentencing, Chen said that “exposing dissident information is a serious offense,” and called Abouammo’s actions “serious” and “consequential,” according to the DOJ.

“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,” US Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in a statement.

Abouammo, who at Twitter helped oversee relationships with journalists and celebrities in the Middle East and North Africa, was found guilty in August after a 2-1/2 week trial in San Francisco federal court.

Prosecutors said Bader Al-Asaker, a close adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recruited Abouammo to use his insider knowledge to access Twitter accounts and dig up personal information about Saudi dissidents.

Those accounts allegedly included @mujtahidd, a pseudonym for a political agitator who gained millions of Twitter followers in the Arab Spring uprisings by accusing the Saudi royal family of corruption and other misdeeds.

Prosecutors said Abouammo received at least $300,000 and a $20,000 luxury watch from Al-Asaker, and concealed the money by depositing it in a relative’s account in Lebanon and having it wired to his own account in the United States.

Abouammo’s lawyers had argued that the work Abouammo did at Twitter was simply part of his job.

Abouammo was also convicted of wire fraud and honest services fraud, money laundering and a conspiracy charge. Jurors acquitted him on five of the 11 counts he faced.

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