The Government is floundering to explain how an American Billionaire has received New Zealand citizenship, despite not meeting normal criteria.
Peter Thiel is an unusual person, very rich, very right wing, and he has some unusual beliefs and characteristics. The New York Times explains some of his background:
Mr. Thiel, worth a reported $2.7 billion, was a founder of the online payments site PayPal and the data company Palantir. He secretly funded the lawsuit that killed off Gawker, the network of gossip sites that outed him, accurately, as gay.
When Mr. Trump won, Mr. Thiel emerged as a key adviser. He has spent much of the time since the election in New York, advising the transition team. His recommendations are under consideration for significant jobs.
As a byproduct, he has become famous, a fate many of his peers in Silicon Valley would go out of their way to avoid. Mr. Thiel has been reported as a possible Supreme Court justice, as a potential candidate for governor of California, and, most recently, as President Trump’s potential ambassador to Germany.
Mr. Thiel’s admiration for New Zealand is longstanding. “Utopia,” he once called it. He has an investment firm in the country that has put millions into local start-ups. He also owns lavish properties there, which his Silicon Valley friends hope to fly to in the event of a worldwide pandemic.
He has in the past shown empathy for his fellow humans. As long as they are rich or famous. He helped fund a lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan against Gawker which effectively was a successful attempt to drain Hawker of funds by forcing it to fight a long drawn out case. In his own words this is his justification for his actions:
“I can defend myself. Most of the people they attack are not people in my category. They usually attack less prominent, far less wealthy people that simply can’t defend themselves.” He said that “even someone like Terry Bollea who is a millionaire and famous and a successful person didn’t quite have the resources to do this alone.”
He also described incidences of date rape as belated regret. I can see why he gets on so well with Donald Trump.
Clearly though he is worried about what is happening in America and has been setting up a bolthole in New Zealand, presumably just in case Trump does not deliver nirvana.
If you want further detail Karol wrote this fascinating backgrounder on Thiel in 2014.
It appears Thiel gained access to New Zealand via a high net worth investor application. In 2012 John Key spoke with approval about the decision. From Scoop:
The tiny number of super-rich investors who come to New Zealand generally add value to the country far beyond whatever initial investment is required of them to gain residency, Prime Minister John Key said today.
He cited New York billionaire Julian Robertson, who has developed tourist resorts in New Zealand and made the largest single art collection donation in Australasia, film-maker James Cameron and Paypal founder Peter Thiel, an investor in kiwi accounting software company Xero, as examples.
“Having high net worth individuals come here is a positive, in my view,” he said at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference. “There will never be massive numbers. There aren’t that many of them.
“The vast bulk of people don’t come in the super-rich category, if you’re talking about how people get citizenship,” Key said.
Wealthy migrants needed to show they would bring benefits to New Zealand and were committed to the country.
Somehow Thiel managed to gain New Zealand citizenship even though he did not meet the normal criteria with his application being granted on June 30, 2011. From Radio New Zealand:
Mr Guy, who was the internal affairs minister at the time, said Mr Thiel was granted citizenship under a provision of the Citizenship Act that stated it would be “in the public interest due to exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature”.
However, he said he did not recall dealing with Mr Thiel’s application.
“As minister I tended to follow the advice of DIA officials on these issues; I’m advised officials recommended granting citizenship in this particular case.”
A consequence is that thanks to this decision Mr Thiel did not have to apply for Overseas Investment Office consent when he bought a 197 hectare property in Wanaka in 2015. But letting someone avoid the provisions of the OIO is not something that I would normally think is in the public interest.
OIA applications have been lodged. It appears that the Government will try and delay for the 20 working day period despite an obligation to release the information as soon as it is practicable.
Iain Lees Galloway has lodged questions via the Parliamentary system and should receive the information first. And he neatly sums up why this issue is important:
Questions have rightly been asked about how Mr Thiel has acquired New Zealand citizenship given that he does not appear to meet the criteria usually expected of applicants.
“People wishing to become citizens of New Zealand normally have to spend over 70 per cent of their time in New Zealand over a 5-year period before they can even apply.
“It seems incredibly unlikely that a person of Mr Thiel’s wealth and prominence would be able to reside unnoticed in New Zealand for that period of time.
“Has the Government chosen to allow Mr Thiel to jump the queue for citizenship? If so, an urgent explanation is required.
“Mr Thiel is a wealthy man who has chosen to invest in two New Zealand tech ventures. That is to be welcomed and applauded, but it is not enough reason to give him preferential treatment.
“There is no evidence of impropriety in this case, but New Zealanders pride ourselves on being an egalitarian nation where citizenship is not for sale, and that ideal must be upheld.
“There may well be an innocent explanation but the longer the Government stays silent the more it appears they have something to hide,” says Iain Lees-Galloway.
This obsequious pandering to overseas wealthy has been going on for a while and is part of the Government’s economic strategy. From an article last year by Fran O’Sullivan:
John Key is positioning New Zealand as an Asia-Pacific “Switzerland” – a beautiful and wealthy bolthole for high net-worthers seeking to escape from an unstable world.
Key believes that free-flowing terrorism is here to stay. To the Prime Minister, this simply makes New Zealand more attractive and will result in more high net-worth consumers wanting to come here – a theme he is developing in business briefings.
As I said last year Key wanted and National wants to attract more wealthy people to New Zealand as the rest of the world implodes. This explains his utter indifference to climate change and why he wants everyone to get some guts and make the Middle East even more unstable. They present business opportunities, not threats. As the centre of the world cooks and the north implodes from the pressure of millions seeking a new home, rich people flooding south to New Zealand’s green and pleasant land will make us richer, or at least those of us who already own land. As for the rest clearly they are poor and undeserving. Tough luck if you are young or working class or both.
New Zealand is clearly becoming godzone for some. Mainly billionaires.