Politicians demand answers on Peter Thiel's New Zealand citizenship since June 2011
Politicians have called on the Government to explain why US tech billionaire Peter Thiel was granted New Zealand citizenship more than five years ago, saying there are many unanswered questions.
The Department of Internal Affairs has confirmed Thiel became a citizen in 2011, but has not revealed the grounds for approving his application.
It was revealed on Tuesday the German-born PayPal founder, who has bought at least three properties here, is a New Zealand citizen.
A spokeswoman for the Overseas Investment Office said the 2015 purchase of a $13.5 million lifestyle block in Wanaka by Thiel's company did not need to follow rules for the sale of sensitive land to foreign buyers due to Thiel's citizenship.
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A spokesman for the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), which processes citizenship applications, said it did not usually comment on specific individuals but there was "sufficient public interest" in Thiel to merit comment.
"The department confirms that Mr Thiel was approved New Zealand citizenship on 30 June, 2011."
However, the spokesman did not explain how Thiel obtained citizenship, saying only that all applications were considered "based on an assessment of relevant eligibility criteria".
Labour immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said there were a number of unanswered questions about how Thiel became a citizen, given it was "very unlikely" he met the usual residency criteria.
WEALTHY SHOULDN'T JUMP QUEUE - LABOUR
"Someone of Mr Thiel's international standing and wealth would find it difficult to hide in New Zealand, I think.
"If the minister has determined that he is an exceptional person or he has exceptional circumstances, I think it's very important for the minister to make it clear what those exceptional circumstances or conditions were."
Lees-Galloway said he was opposed to offering New Zealand citizenship to foreigners based on their wealth.
"New Zealand has always considered itself an egalitarian country . . . in principle, to allow someone to jump the queue to citizenship because they are wealthy, I don't think fits very well with New Zealand values."
NZ First leader Winston Peters said he did not wish to "cast aspersions" on Thiel, but wanted to know how he fit the criteria for citizenship, and whether a minister signed off the decision.
"I'm not questioning anything about his engagement in New Zealand, but I think what we need to know was how was the citizenship requirement satisfied?
"Because it doesn't matter how big or how small you are, the requirements should be known."
GOVT SELLING CITIZENSHIP - PETERS
Peters accused the Government of "selling citizenship" to rich foreigners who invested in New Zealand, without ensuring there were proper restrictions.
"They've been out there with the so-called business investment category, which has been as you know an absolute farce . . . it has been the most loose regime you can imagine, and it's virtually being changed and reformed and tinkered around with every year."
He was not opposed to a special category for investors, but said the regime needed integrity and proper monitoring.
"If they're coming in here and buying a $4 million house in Auckland, that is not a business investment. But if they're buying a property inside the rules, which they've got proposals to create employment and expand exports from, it starts to fit what you might call best practice international description of foreign investment."
A spokesman for Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne said Thiel became a citizen "years ago, long before he was minister".
"The first time he [Dunne] even heard his name was [Wednesday]."
Stuff put a number of other questions to Dunne's office, including how Thiel obtained citizenship, when, and under what category.
However, his spokesman said the questions would be treated as an Official Information Act request, with a response required within 20 working days.