Shortly after dropping espionage charges against two former Twitter employees and a third individual, the US government has filed expanded charges against them. The three men have been charged with seven offenses for allegedly spying on Twitter users critical of the Saudi royal family.
The newly pressed charges include "acting as an agent for a foreign government without notice to the attorney general; conspiracy to commit wire fraud; wire fraud; money laundering; destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations; aiding and abetting; and criminal forfeiture."
These charges are part of a superseding indictment. They’ll replace the previously pressed charges against the three individuals. The two former Twitter employees, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah, and the third person named Ahmed Almutairi were originally charged with "fraudulently accessing private information and acting as illegal agents of a foreign government" last fall.
Prosecutors had filed a notice earlier this week requesting those espionage charges to be dropped. The request was submitted without prejudice. This essentially meant the government could file new charges if those already in place are dropped. That's exactly what has happened.
The US files expanded espionage charges against former Twitter employees
The aforementioned three individuals were accused of espionage last year. They were allegedly spying on Twitter users using company privileges between November 2014 to May 2015. Almutairi convinced the then Twitter employees, Abouammo and Alzabarah, to spy on users critical of the Saudi kingdom and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Abouammo and Alzabarah would use internal Twitter tools to extract personal information from accounts of such users. That information may include email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, the device used, biographical information, browser information, a user's actions on Twitter, and more.
According to the new indictment, the duo gleaned information from the accounts of several journalists, celebrities, and organizations among others. Saudi officials may have paid Abouammo at least $200,000 along with a watch worth around $20,000. The original complaint last year estimated the amount to be around $300,000.
Abouammo, however, had provided the FBI with a falsified, backdated receipt that showed a $100,000 payment from Saudi officials. He said he received the money in exchange for media consulting services.
A dual citizen of the US and Lebanon, Abouammo is reportedly in custody now. Alzabarah and Almutairi, both citizens of Saudi Arabia, fled the country in 2015. In the new indictment, the US government says Alzabarah lived in the US until December 3, 2015. Almutairi (also known as Ahmed Aljbreen), meanwhile, was present in the country until May 2015.