Billionaire Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel sending more of his mates our way
Billionaire Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel is sending more of his wealthy mates New Zealand's way, an Auckland associate says.
Thiel, 49, a tech billionaire and big government opponent, has over the last decade bought at least three properties in New Zealand.
Through other entities, he has a house in Auckland, a property nicknamed "the plasma house" in Queenstown, and in 2015 he bought a 193 hectare block in Wanaka for $13.5 million.
The PayPal co-founder and child chess whizz, who was born in Germany, has New Zealand citizenship and did not need Overseas Investment Office approval for the Wanaka purchase.
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Thiel, a conservative libertarian, supported Trump's US-presidency bid and donated $1.25m to Trump's campaign. After Trump's victory, Thiel was appointed to his transition team.
In 2011, he made a NZ$1 million donation to the Christchurch earthquake appeal fund.
Auckland real estate agent Graham Wall, whose main business is selling high-end Auckland properties to mostly overseas buyers, said he first came to know Thiel when he wanted to buy "a little house" in Auckland.
"He sends us a lot of people because he has done a few deals with us – four or five – so he sends his mates to us. He is known as a bit of a trailblazer, so when Peter does something others tend to follow."
Wall said another New Zealander on President Trump's White House team, Chris Liddell, was an old friend and also sent him contacts.
Inquiries from the US were increasing, he said.
"As Trump came to prominence it's fair to say we have seen an increase. Not a massive increase, just more people coming and usually by word of mouth. They meet someone else in Silicon Valley, they all hang out together these tycoons. It works very well for us."
Two solid inquiries a month from the US had grown to two a week, he said.
"Usually we get a chopper and have a look around and then get on the ground and try to buy it."
A neighbour of Thiel's Edinburgh Dr property in Queenstown said she had only heard of, but never seen, the billionaire.
She said the 360-square-metre house, which was difficult to access, was empty a lot of the time.
"It looks like a prison at the back," she said.
The house's exterior reportedly features 18 tonnes of Swiss granite, while the interior has Australian interior veneer panels and Italian bathroom fixtures.
She said the previous property owner sold the house in 2011 and moved to the US.
A Thiel entity bought the Wanaka property from Damper Bay Estates Ltd in 2015 after Damper failed in a bid to subdivide the block bounded by Mount Aspiring Rd and Lake Wanaka into three lots.
Queenstown Airport Corporation chairman Mark Taylor was one of three directors behind Damper Bay Estates, the others being Aucklanders Dean Trevor Farmer and Craig Leonard Heatley.
Wall said he had been dealing with rich Americans for about eight or nine years and they were attracted to New Zealand because of its corruption-free institutions and general safety.
"New Zealand has a wonderful reputation for fairness and honesty.
"They are extremely good citizens. They have a wonderful attitude. They love the iwi stuff and the Maori connection. Most are well educated, so they are conscious and sensitive to cultures."
Thiel co-founded PayPal and had was one of the first major investors in Facebook.
His New Zealand investments include holdings in online accounting firm Xero, Pacific Fibre, a company building a fibre-optic cable from Australia to New Zealand to the US, and he has set up local venture firm called Valar Ventures.
The name Valar Ventures comes from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings of which Thiel is an ardent fan.
Thiel has been quoted as saying: "New Zealand is already utopia. But Silicon Valley and New Zealand can learn a lot from each other and we want to help make that happen."
Thiel founded two other companies in New Zealand: Second Star Limited, of which he is sole shareholder, and Silverarc Advisors.
The billionaire has been active in US politics, donating to a range of conservative politicians. He has said he believed the world needed a new wave of radical innovation in fields like artificial intelligence and robotics to escape impending disaster and has seemed increasingly sceptical that the US, the world leader in innovation, can deliver that.
The Department of Internal affairs, which handles citizenship applications, requires people to have lived in New Zealand for five years and for stretches of at least 240 days.
Applicants must also speak English and be "of good character", along with already having the right to be in New Zealand indefinitely.
Those who do not meet the requirements may still be granted citizenship in special cases, including if the applicant could provide some advantage, or positive benefit to New Zealand.
Thiel gained an arts degree and a Juris Doctor (law) degree from Stanford University in the US.
Last year, it was revealed he had secretly funded ex-wrestler Hulk Hogan's successful lawsuit against gossip website Gawker after it published a sex tape of Hogan.
Forbes estimated last year that Thiel was worth US$2.7 billion (NZ$3.7b), putting him at number 246 on the Forbes 400 – a list of the US' richest billionaires.
The American business magazine also ranked Thiel at number 73 on its list of most powerful people in 2016.