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The Peter Thiel citizenship grant

Written By: - Date published: 8:16 am, February 2nd, 2017 - 78 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, john key, labour, national, Politics, same old national - Tags: ,

A dump of papers at 5 pm on a Wednesday the same day that the election date is announced is a somewhat cynical abuse of the OIA system.  But that is what happened.  Yesterday at 5 pm the papers relating to Peter Thiel’s grant of citizenship were released.

And what an unusual picture they paint.  Mr Thiel did not qualify for a grant of citizenship.  To do so he is meant to actually live in the country for a reasonably substantial amount of time and it appears he has spent only limited amounts of time here.  But he thought that his incredible wealth and his generosity ought to qualify him for a grant of citizenship.  His entreprenuial skill incuded investing in Facebook and creating Paypal and writing Xero a big cheque.  He claimed that being a New Zealand citizen would “enable him to represent the country on the international stage and give him greater confidence in mobilising New Zealand’s talented entrepreneurs”.

It was recommended by the Department that his application be approved and it was.

It is hard to reconcile the paper with the requirements of the Citizenship Act 1977 which says that citizenship should not be granted unless “the Minister is satisfied that granting a certificate of New Zealand citizenship to the applicant would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant”.

The papers disclose that Thiel consulted the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on how his company could contribute to the venture capital market in New Zealand.  He also presented at a conference with then Prime Minister John Key.  He must have made quite a mark.

Much has been made of his donation of $1 million dollars to the Christchurch Earthquake fund.  The papers show that his lawyers issued a press release on April 20, 2011 announcing the donation.  He lodged his application for citizenship on December 20, 2010 and the paper to the Minister is dated June 22, 2011.  Something must have happened which may or may not have persuaded him that a donation to the Prime Minister’s fund may have been helpful to his application.

This needs further investigation.  The papers include a letter from Bell Gully, Thiel’s lawyers to Internal Affairs dated March 11, 2011 which states “[o]ur client has been approached on behalf of the Prime Minister to play a role in the offshore initiatives in relation to the Christchurch Earthquake Fund.  It is anticipated that there will be publicity about this.  This has arisen subsequent to the original application, such that its context is unique to the circumstances.  Our client was anxious to avoid it being considered in any manner relative to the merits of this application.”

His anxiety must have peaked.  Because clearly the donation was something Internal Affairs took into account when it made its recommendation.

Why did he want citizenship?  He already had residence.  But being a New Zealand citizen is the best way for an American to purchase sensitive land and avoid Overseas Investment Office scrutiny.

I am struggling to think of an alternative reason.  It is clear Thiel continues to live in the United States and his current involvement in Trump’s administration means this will not change soon.  He could come and go from here anyway so why did he need a grant of citizenship?

Henry Cook in stuff asks the pertinent question:

Why exactly did Peter Thiel want New Zealand citizenship?

In a December 2010 email an unnamed Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) official queried just that. Why did a controversial American/German billionaire want citizenship here, given he didn’t intend to live in the country, didn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, and already had permanent residence?

Another case manager later described the application as “interesting”.


To add to this the further issues are the exact nature of Thiel’s relationship with National Cabinet members and what has he done to further New Zealand’s entrepreneur also needs to be questioned.  As said by Labour’s Iain Lees Galloway:

I am yet to see any evidence that New Zealand has gained from this arrangement. It’s very clear what Mr Thiel has gained as a citizen – he’s been able to purchase a very large piece of South Island real estate …

“What did New Zealand get out of this? Nothing as far as I can tell.”

78 comments on “The Peter Thiel citizenship grant ”

  1. Bill 2

    Some not quite random snippets from a Guardian piece on all of this…

    The formal citizenship process took place in a private ceremony in Santa Monica in 2011.

    “As part of my study into how I could contribute to the existing entrepreneurial environment and further development of the venture capital market in New Zealand I have consulted with a variety of New Zealand political leaders, including meeting prime minister John Key, deputy prime minister Bill English and minister of economic development Gerry Brownlee.”

    his intention to start a “technology incubator” in Auckland

    he had only visited the country on half a dozen occasions, and had no plans to permanently reside there, despite owning properties in Parnell and Queenstown. Thiel’s application was supported by letters from a number of prominent New Zealand businessman, including Xero founder Rod Drury and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.

  2. Wayne 3

    Thiel is not just a rich guy.

    He brings relationships and deep knowledge in the IT sector at the highest level. He knows all the key players.

    As for what he gets from NZ citizenship. In practise (aside from the OIO issue) it is a bit hard to tell. I agree that it makes it easier for him to buy his hideaway, but it seems plenty of Americans can do that already (Shania Twain).

    He does not really get anymore influence than he already had from having permanent residence. He is not going to get involved in NZ politics as such, not like Kim Dotcom! He is not going to become a judge, MP, military officer or any such other office that requires NZ citizenship.

    I think he just likes the idea of being a New Zealand citizen, an expression of confidence in us and our way of life (notwithstanding he is a libertarian). Maybe he just likes our live and let live philosophy and our relaxed way of doing things.

    • In practise (aside from the OIO issue) it is a bit hard to tell.

      In practice, the OIO issue explains it fully and no other benefit needs to exist.

    • mickysavage 3.2

      From the papers it looks like you met him Wayne. Has he delivered on his promises to promote NZ on the international stage?

    • Craig H 3.3

      The other gains are the NZ passport which means access to Australia and the ability to renounce US citizenship while still holding citizenship to an Anglo sphere country.

    • NZJon 3.4

      “He knows all the key players.”

      He knows people. He knows the best people. Everyone knows he bigly knows people. He’s yuge over there, let me tell you…

    • simbit 3.5

      But mainly he’s just a rich guy.

      • infused 3.5.1

        Stop being such a dumb shit. He has connections everywhere. Everyone in the sector is trying to get involved. He has very good connections with the us brothers who live in Upper Hutt, who had part in the new visa program for entrepreneurs.

        But no, you dickheads can’t see past the money.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          I can see past the money. His professional association with the POTUS is enough – just as NZ refuses visas to people associated with Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama.

        • Draco T Bastard

          It’s not about the money – it’s about the corrupt way that was used to give him citizenship. Of course, that corruption did have a lot to do with him having lots of money.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.6

      He is not going to get involved in NZ politics as such, not like Kim Dotcom!

      KDC didn’t give any more indication of getting into politics than the average Joe – until he got railroaded by the NZ police.

      Theil, on the other hand, seems to have been involved in politics for quite some time – his entire life in fact.

    • newsense 3.7

      What are the tax advantages?

      Does he believe in climate change and coming civil unrest as a result of mechanisation etc. more than his political companions publicly claim they do?

      Key enjoyed playing with the big boys and was often starstruck. Is this a deal that is good for New Zealand? In what obvious and quantifiable ways?

      I dislike the idea that the oligarchy can buy NZ. They already own many of the houses, at least we’ve got our citizenship, right?

      • Andre 3.7.1

        Unless there’s a special deal for billionaires, there’s no tax advantage. US citizens are required to file income tax returns and pay taxes to the US every year no matter where they are resident.

        In practice, for low to high income earners, New Zealand has a higher tax rate than the US, so since taxes paid to other countries on income earned in those other countries is deducted from the taxes owed to the US, any US tax liability gets wiped out.

        However, were Thiel to become tax resident in NZ, his income would (presumably) be so high that he would be in the top US bracket which is a lot more than NZ’s top rate, so he would pay NZ taxes plus a chunk to the US as well.

  3. …a humanitarian or other nature…

    I guess for a National Party cabinet, “I have lots of money” fits neatly into the category of “other.”

    So a few months after Thiel submits his application, NZ’s bankster-in-chief got in touch with him to suggest he might like to consider a fat donation to the Christchurch rebuild, and a couple of months after he hands over the cash the Minister grants him citizenship.

    Maybe we should be grateful that, although the current government is selling NZ citizenship, at least it’s driving a hard bargain with the applicants? Hmm, no… No, I don’t feel any sense of gratitude there at all…

  4. Bill 5

    P45 of the dump has this wee doozy (from this published article)…

    “Theil is very libertarian and NZ already has some of the most free market policies in the world. Theil is also a donor to the Seasteading Institute, a foundation that wants to create libertarian self sustaining colonies out at sea. A popular libertarian cause is the “Free State Project” to get tens of thousands of libertarians to emigrate to New Hampshire and take over the government democratically to reshape the state according to libertarian ideals.”

    • NZJester 5.1

      Maybe they have the same plans for New Zealand. We have been seeing a lot of libertarians influencing National policy here already. They want this country as one of their off-shore bases?

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1


        Isn’t it interesting that these libertarians believe that they can just buy their way into control of an entire country?

  5. Tarquin 6

    Rather have him than twenty dodgy Somalians. He has only been good for New Zealand.

    • Jeremy 6.1

      Evidence please.

      • Tarquin 6.1.1

        Donation to the Christchurch earthquake fund. I can’t work out why Labour are attacking Thiel. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have citizenship here for dubious reasons, some deservedly and others not so. He has done no harm and appears to be a good person and good for our economy. Lees-Galloway may be right in what he says but he looks like someone who is more interested in playing the politics of envy rather than doing his job. Surely Labour can do better?

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Neo-Nazis not welcome.

          • David C

            Calling Lees-Galloway a Neo Nazi is a bit strong (IMHO) but I can see why you would think so.

            His anti migrant rethoric is very Trumpish.

        • Draco T Bastard

          He has done no harm and appears to be a good person and good for our economy.

          He’s a libertarian and so it’s a given that he’s done harm and that sort of ideology is bad for the economy.

          • Richard McGrath

            So what harm has he done apart from making a few regulars here steam with envy? You can’t seem to grasp the libertarian ideal of mutual co-operation and trade, living one’s life without causing objective harm to others (“hurt feelings” don’t count).

            • Draco T Bastard

              So what harm has he done apart from making a few regulars here steam with envy?

              No envy as you’ve been informed before – it’s disgust.

              You can’t seem to grasp the libertarian ideal of mutual co-operation and trade, living one’s life without causing objective harm to others (“hurt feelings” don’t count).

              And then you go and tell the whole world how libertarianism causes harm – by ignoring everyone else.

              And, no, libertarianism has nothing of cooperation in it. It’s all about competition which itself causes even more harm.

              Everything about libertarianism causes harm. Harm to people, harm to society. That is because of the way it is, because of it’s belief in nothing but money and stealing from everyone else.

        • Guerilla Surgeon

          ” I’m sure there are plenty of people who have citizenship here for dubious reasons”
          Oh – that makes it all right then. (Tu quoque is a fallacy, not an argument.)

        • Jeremy

          Where is your evidence that “he has done no harm”?

        • Sam C

          Correct. Lees-Galloway was very poor on Morning Report this morning. Espiner seemed to have a better grasp of the facts than he did (which is saying something). Lees-Galloway had no response to Espiner’s statement that Shane Jones went directly against the advice of officials when he granted William Yan citizenship, whereas Nathan Guy was following advice of officials when he granted Thiel citizenship. Labour are barking at the wrong passing car here.

        • timbeau

          @Tarquin: The Christchurch Earthquake donation was one hit-and-run donation that looks very much like a bribe. I would rather take the 20 refugees. My wife works with refugees, some of whom have become friends. One Afghani guy has been here about 15 years. He’s a tradesman, earns probably $80-$100K a year, scrupulously honest. So, over 15 years, he’s probably paid what $300,000 tax? Multiply that by 20, and how is one hit-and-run German American worth 20 refugees?

    • adam 6.2

      Can you back up your racist comment Tarquin? [deleted]

      Here the thing – I know you can’t back your statement, as I know quite a few Somalians many are business people who began life as refugees. Many more who have slowly but surely got a life wrecked, back on track.

      [lprent: That was excessive and pointless abuse (the first sentence got your point across). I’d suggest that you pull your head in before I am forced to do it for you. ]

      • Tarquin 6.2.1

        I’m too scared to fly to Aussie in case the plane gets hijacked by that mad Somalian woman who did the same thing down south. I also know a few Somalians, most of them are drug dealers in west Auckland. The problem is, the refugees that are forced upon us are just not suitable. It’s bleeding heart twats like yourself that keep them coming. If you think you’re really tough try walking through what’s left of the Avondale shopping centre after dark.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          They flee right wing racist scum like you. That makes them suitable, and you, not so much.

          • Tarquin

            Do you know the difference between nationalism and racism? Quaintly enough, I’m no poster boy for the right wing either. Being born here makes me more than suitable.

            • weizguy

              “Do you know the difference between nationalism and racism?”

              Please – enlighten us… (this should be good).

        • adam

          So Iprent he’s gets to double down on his racism is a song OK?

        • Draco T Bastard

          If you think you’re really tough try walking through what’s left of the Avondale shopping centre after dark.

          Been there, done that – didn’t feel in danger at all.

          And during the day the Avondale shopping centre seems to be one of the more lively ones around. Sure, it’s got a few closed stores but that probably has more to do with how society is changing rather than the decline of Avondale.

        • adam

          Oh my, so your fear to go into Avondale at night. Seriously, that’s it.

          I’d say get a back bone, but I’m not sure it would help your level of fear.

          As for the drug dealing line, that says more about the company you keep.

        • McFlock

          Is your complaint that the only immigrants you encounter are your drug dealers, or that immigrants are pushing you out of the market?

  6. Mrs Brillo 7

    So he didn’t even bother to come here for the citizenship ceremony?
    He had it delivered to him in Santa Monica? Who was that biddable courier?

    Next question: are we the only country he has done this to? He started out with a German passport and a US one. How many others has he added to his collection?

  7. Bill 8

    On page 130 of that dump, there’s a nice wee hint given to Theil by the ‘Citizenship Case Officer’. It reads…

    “I would like to provide Mr Theil further opportunity to provide information or documentation to support his case…(a shopping list of required evidence of investments etc, and finishing up with) ….he may wish to elaborate on whether he requires citizenship in order to continue with his investment in New Zealand.”

    Go on. Tell me that’s not a heads up that he’ll get citizenship if he claims he’ll ‘have’ to curtail future investment if he doesn’t get citizenship.

  8. Carolyn_nth 9

    I haven’t looked much at the DIA dump on Thiel. But there is so much stuff out there on him, it’s hard to know where to start.

    Thiel has a long reach from his libertarian and neoliberal values to his IT enterprises.

    Looking at his company Palantir – that also has a long reach. But gee the guy seem to treat business as some fantasy fiction computer game.

    Palantir’s activities, summarised on wikipedia:

    The different software systems have names like Palantir Gotham and Palantir Metropolis.

    Palantir Gotham is used by counter-terrorism analysts at offices in the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) and United States Department of Defense, fraud investigators at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and cyber analysts at Information Warfare Monitor, while Palantir Metropolis is used by hedge funds, banks, and financial services firms.[3][4]

    It seems Peter Thiel is also part of the Bildeberg group. This libertarian likes Bildeberg’s lack of transparency, and doesn’t like “radical transparency”.

    So Thiel heads a company that owns cyber-systems that connect all of the US Intelligence and police agencies: ones increasingly intrusive into the activities and lives of ordinary citizens. But he doesn’t like “radical transparency of his own activities?

  9. NZJester 10

    I’m wondering if now that he is a New Zealand citizen if he is able to make those anonymous donations to the National Party they seem to get regularly without us being allowed to know who they received the money from. Of all the parties in New Zealand National receives the highest amount of anonymous donations. Why do so many not want to admit they are funding National? How many foreign nationals have been able to make their funding of National anonymous by using things like Cabinet Club etc. to avoid letting the New Zealand people know who is actually funding National.

  10. Wayne 11


    Anonymous donations have to be less than $1,500. That would also include any Cabinet Club payment, where the payment is $1,500 more than the value of the food and drink. So basically an irrelevant consideration

    Peter Thiel’s interest in NZ has nothing to do with any particular political party in NZ. He get PR under Labour and citizenship under National.

    As I said in 2013, it is more about the zeitgeist and his personal enthusiasms. NZ gains from them, but not in a political way.

    Would any of us give a hoot if it wasn’t for his connections with Trump.

    I don’t personally see a problem with a few people like Thiel getting citizenship. While he may not live here as such, he has a personal interest in NZ, or perhaps it is more like that he has a sense of what it is to be a New Zealander. When you you visit Queenstown and the surrounding area, it is not hard to see why that might be the case.

    The OIO issue seems pretty marginal. As a PR he would almost certainly get consent for his property purchases.

    • DoublePlusGood 11.1

      We’d still have problems with his involvement with Palantir, which indicate he is likely to be involved in all sorts of nefariousness.

    • KJT 11.2

      Directorships for retired National party MP’s have to be declared?

      Or, are bribes paid after the fact, exempt?

    • HDCAFriendlyTroll 11.3

      “Would any of us give a hoot if it wasn’t for his connections with Trump.”


      • Red 11.3.1

        Strange far left ganging up on a guy for simply supporting the most economic left president in the US for years, and a gay man to boot

    • Draco T Bastard 11.4

      I don’t personally see a problem with a few people like Thiel getting citizenship.

      I wouldn’t have a problem with Thiel getting citizenship either – if he got it through the same process as everyone else rather than the corrupt one he got it through.

      As a PR he would almost certainly get consent for his property purchases.

      But he would have had to declare it for his political aspirations in the US which makes it a big deal.

    • Muttonbird 11.5

      (Thiel) has a sense of what it is to be a New Zealander

      You can’t seriously believe what you wrote. He’s only been here 4 times.

      Still if the National Party hands out citizenship to people who ‘have a sense of what it is to be a New Zealander’ then the floodgates might open even further.

      Pity the infrastructure.

  11. shorts 12

    Pop culture aside:

    Silicon Valley’s Peter Gregory is based on Peter Thiel

  12. adam 13

    I’m happy to let this roll.

    But in return, somthing for the working people.

    I’m thinking a hundred African American families, the whole family, the whole extended family so they have support networks when they come here. Seems fair to me, give people who are struggling in the USA a chance here. I know the indenture slave side of my family would never have got in these days. No wait, she might have as a sex worker/slave.

    If you buy citizenship as a American this is the trade, we get 100 African American families – seems a fair trade to me.

  13. Sacha 14

    Gordon Campbell concludes, among other things:

    “In reality, all that Thiel has done for New Zealand could have been done via his prior status as a permanent resident.”

  14. Kiwigunner 16

    Iain Lees-Galloway was terrible on Morning Report this morning. Espiner asked him if he would have declined the citizenship application and he prevaricated to the point of ineptitude. When asked would he have gone against the officials advice and turned the application down he should have replied yes, in this case the application did not meet the criteria and it is the Minister’s role to ensure that the officials have it right – clearly that is why the officials don’t simply sign these things off themselves. Then he should have the question as so many have here today as to why citizenship was so necessary for Thiel and clearly it is to avoid OIO regulations as there can be no other reasonable explanation because he can love NZ all he wants, work with NZ all he wants, and contribute to NZ as much as he wants without being a citizen. Indeed over time should he show a more traditional connection with us- say living here, learning how NZ works and its values and traditions then he would clearly be welcomed to apply like everyone else. That the citizen ceremony for him was overseas in relatively secrecy kind of lays everything else bare.

    My real message is though if Labour wants to be the next government then be clear about what you stand for ethically because that must be a point of difference between the current government and the next one.

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