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.”