Prosecutors believe a Saudi citizen linked to the royal family recruited two former Twitter employees to access internal data about users.
US prosecutors are expanding charges against two former Twitter employees and their alleged Saudi handler accused of spying.
The new indictments filed by lawyers on Tuesday include accusations of money laundering, acting as agents of a foreign government, and fraud.
The indictment documents seen by TRT World identify two Saudi citizens, Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi, as well as American citizen, Ahmad Abouammo.
Abouammo and Alzabarah are former Twitter employees who are believed to have been recruited by Almutairi to pass on private information Twitter possessed about some 6,000 users of interest to the Saudi government.
The pair are accused of having received gifts, including cash payments, for passing on the data to Almutairi, who is alleged to have been an intermediary between the Twitter employees and Saudi officials.
One such gift received by Abouammo, includes a $20,000 watch, according to US prosecutors.
The contacts between the Saudi officials and the Twitter employees are believed to have developed after a Saudi marketing agency contacted Twitter with regards to the verification process for an unnamed Saudi royal in 2014.
1/4 #FBI San Francisco is seeking Ali Alzabarah (https://t.co/DbJ5RvefJu)and Ahmed Almutairi (https://t.co/Hg0xEfJE2i) for allegedly acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government pic.twitter.com/ZMUE0nYFvK— FBI SanFrancisco (@FBISanFrancisco) November 7, 2019
While both Alzabarah and Almutairi are believed to be in Saudi Arabia, Abouammo is in US custody.
“Using their access privileges as employees and fiduciaries of Twitter, Abouammo and Alzabarah, beyond the scope of their job duties, accessed nonpublic account information of Twitter users of interest to the Saudi Royal Family and government of KSA,” the indictment read
“Such nonpublic information included email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and internet IP addresses, among other things.”
Those targeted had made posts critical of the Saudi regime, as well as individual members of the royal family.
Alzabarah had reportedly told Twitter superiors that he had accessed information about users out of curiosity, rather than at the behest of Saudi officials.
Abouammo had allegedly messaged a Saudi official using Twitter direct messages, telling him: “proactive and reactively we will delete evil my brother.” The US citizen is believed to have received at least $320,000 for his efforts.
Twitter has long been criticised for not doing enough to stop Saudi exploitation of its services.
Users have long complained that any criticism of Saudi Arabia on the social network is met with pro-Saudi troll and bot activity.
The site has tried to curb such activity by suspending thousands of bot accounts.