A former Twitter employee is facing spying charges after it was revealed that he was passing along personal data of dissidents to the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince’s “right-hand man,” Bader Al-Asaker.

Ahmad Abouammo and an unnamed co-conspirator are being charged with acting as an illegal foreign agent in the United States as well as obstruction of justice, which carries a max sentence of 20 years in prison, amongst a host of other charges. The case of U.S. vs Abouammo is scheduled to take two weeks to complete. 

Through his inside track, Abouammo was allegedly able to hand over a list of Saudi Arabian users’ data which included birthdates, phone numbers, IP addresses and email addresses, violating the social media company’s privacy and data policies, according to former Twitter employees who testified at the hearing.  However, according to human rights organisations, Abouammo’s actions in 2015 have had a more damaging effect – dissidents being held in secret prisons and being tortured via sleep deprivation, electric shocks and beatings.

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According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin Sampson, Al-Asaker gave Abouammo a “shopping list of Twitter users that he wanted an insider to keep track of.” Bloomberg reported that the former Twitter employee’s ties with the Saudi kingdom began with a bribe of a Hublot watch. Eventually, he collected $300,000 from the Saudis, according to a Bloomberg report.

According to Abouammo’s lawyer, Jerome Matthews, “Context matters, looking at the whole picture matters.” He told Bloomberg that the case against his client had been “hand-picked and curated by the government.” Matthews said that while his client had stayed back in the country to cooperate with federal agents, his co-conspirator has fled to Saudi Arabia to avoid prosecution. 

The ex-Twitter employee’s prosecution is an interesting one to say the least. Just last week, President Joe Biden was visiting Saudi Arabia in an attempt to mend relations. His meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is in stark contrast to an earlier vow he had made to isolate the country for its killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Crown Prince has consistently denied the allegations that he had a role to play in the journalist’s murder.