How Peter Thiel got New Zealand citizenship revealed in DIA documents
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".
For his part, Thiel wrote in a letter it would "give him great pride to let it be known that he is a New Zealand citizen".
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But despite his claim of pride, Thiel kept his citizenship secret for almost six years following the grant, and is yet to discuss it publicly.
"I have found no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand," Thiel wrote.
He advised his "wide global network" would be of "great value" to New Zealand.
His application noted his considerable investments in New Zealand technology companies like Xero and Pacific Fibre. There was also discussion of $1m donation to the Canterbury rebuild.
The DIA have released the surrounding documentation concerning Thiel's citizenship, which required a special grant by then-Minister of Internal Affairs Nathan Guy.
The "special grant" was required as Thiel did not meet two statutory requirements to become a citizen - a history of residing in New Zealand and an intent to reside there in future.
Thiel had never lived in New Zealand long-term and made plain in his application that he did not intend to move.
The exact number of days he had lived in New Zealand was redacted, but the size of the redaction suggests it was only in the double digits.
The grant was given and Thiel attended a private citizenship ceremony at the New Zealand Consulate in Santa Monica in August of 2011.
Guy was advised to grant the citizenship under an "exceptional circumstances" public interest clause in the law, as Thiel had great skills as an entrepreneur and was philanthropic.
Thiel offered to assist with the establishment of an Auckland-based technology company and a "landing pad" in San Francisco to help New Zealand technology companies break into the US market.
His lawyers pointed to his large investments in New Zealand technology companies and donation to the Canterbury earthquake recovery.
TradeMe founder Sam Morgan and Xero CEO Rod Drury wrote letters in support of Thiel's application.
Numerous news articles surrounding Thiel's investments in New Zealand and donation to the Christchurch earthquake recovery were also included.
When approached about Thiel's citizenship application last week, Drury said he wasn't aware of it.
"I wasn't sure, I had to go back and check. I didn't want to be a part of the story at that stage," he said on Wednesday.
But he added that he "absolutely" had written a letter in support of Thiel.
"We offered it when we heard he was going for citizenship," he said.
"He's a huge supporter of us and he's been a fantastic advisor. He's very supportive of New Zealand so we were very pleased to help."
Drury said Thiel was one of the most well-known and respected people in the technology industry, and he had been thrilled to work with him.
Thiel made a US$4 million investment in Xero in 2010 to support Xero's expansion into the US market.
LABOUR CRY FOUL
Labour party immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said he was "shocked" by the decision to grant Thiel citizenship.
"Peter Thiel was granted citizenship because he was a wealthy individual. Money talks with this government.
"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.
"It seems he has set himself up an insurance policy should things become unstable in America."
The Overseas Investment Office revealed Thiel's citizenship last week when they were asked whether they had scrutinised his purchase of a $13.5 million lifestyle block in Wanaka - a requirement for foreign residents, but not citizens.
Guy said at the time he did not remember what the exceptional circumstances were, but that he had acted on the advice of officials.
Potential Kiwis usually have to spend at least 70 per cent of a five-year period in the country to gain citizenship.
WHO IS PETER THIEL?
Thiel, worth a reported $3.7b, rose to fame as the co-founder of PayPal. After PayPal was sold to eBay he became an extraordinarily successful venture capitalist, making over a billion dollars as the first outside investor in Facebook.
Just before gaining citizenship, Thiel talked up New Zealand in foreign media, donated $1m to the Canterbury rebuild, and invested in failed fibre venture Pacific Fibre.
Prime Minister Bill English has defended the Government's decision to grant him citizenship, saying Thiel had "demonstrated his commitment to New Zealand" over the last 11 years after becoming a resident in 2006.
"There's 200 to 300 cases a year where they don't quite fit the criteria or there's some overriding public interest, and the minister acts on the advice of officials as to whether it is generally appropriate for that person to become a citizen."
Thiel's lawyers and PR agency have been asked for comment on the circumstances of his citizenship, but he is yet to respond.
The German/American/Kiwi has been in the spotlight often over the last few years.
He secretly funded a lawsuit in 2016 that bankrupted media company Gawker and was a member of Trump's transition team.
He also made an investment in a company experimenting with the transfusion of young blood into older people, calling the area "underexplored".
Thiel is the co-founder of Palantir, a secretive data analysis company that works with several spy agencies, including potentially New Zealand's.