UPDATE 1-Ex-Twitter employee accused of spying for Saudi Arabia granted bond

  • In US
  • 2019-11-08 23:24:01Z
  • By Reuters

(Adds comment from prosecutor, defense, background)

By Eric M. Johnson

SEATTLE, Nov 8 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday said a former Twitter employee could be released on bond, with travel restrictions, while he awaits trial on charges of spying for Saudi Arabia.

Magistrate Judge Paula McCandlis, of the U.S. District Court in Seattle, said her decision to grant Ahmad Abouammo, 41, bond would go into effect at 4:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET), unless federal prosecutors made an appeal.

In the case of an appeal, Abouammo would stay in detention until a District Court judge made a ruling on McCandlis' decision, defense lawyer Chris Black said.

Abouammo was arrested on Tuesday and indicted on spying charges the next day, along with Ali Alzabarah, 35, another former Twitter employer, and Ahmed Almutairi, 30, who worked for the Saudi royal family.

The indictment points a public finger at Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally with warm ties to President Donald Trump despite what Amnesty International calls its restrictions on human rights and the "extrajudicial killing" of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The charges put Silicon Valley companies in the spotlight over how they protect user information, including from employees with no reason for accessing the data.

According to the complaint, Abouammo repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family in early 2015. At one instance, he was able to view the email address and telephone number associated with the account. Abouammo also accessed the account of a second Saudi critic to get information.

Twitter uncovered Alzabarah's unauthorized access of private data and placed him on administrative leave in late 2015, but not before he had tapped data from over 6,000 accounts, 33 of which Saudi authorities submitted law enforcement requests on, the complaint said.

Almutairi is accused of acting as a go-between for the Saudi government and the Twitter employees.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg told the court that Abouammo, a dual citizen of the United States and Lebanon, presented a flight risk due to large sums of money he had access to from the alleged co-conspirators.

Black, the defense lawyer, said Abouammo, a Seattle resident, no longer had ties to the other two men and he should be allowed to live at home for the wellbeing of his family.

In a letter presented to the court, Abouammo's wife, Zeina, said he homeschooled their children, who suffered from depression and anxiety after being bullied at school.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Alzabarah and Almutairi, who are believed to be in Saudia Arabia. (Reporting by Eric Johnson; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Leslie Adler)


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