Peter Thiel's NZ citizenship: Auditor-General opts not to investigate

Peter Thiel, centre, between US President Donald Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
REUTERS

Peter Thiel, centre, between US President Donald Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The controversial decision to grant New Zealand citizenship to Peter Thiel will not be investigated by the Auditor-General.

Thiel was granted citizenship by then Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy in 2011 despite having only spent 12 days in New Zealand as a resident - far less than the 1350 usually required.

The Trump-backing tech billionaire had invested in Kiwi companies and donated $1 million to Canterbury's earthquake recovery. He was granted citizenship using a "public interest" exception.

Peter Thiel's application form for New Zealand citizenship.

Peter Thiel's application form for New Zealand citizenship.

Green MP Denise Roche wrote to the Auditor-General in February of this year, soon after Thiel's citizenship was revealed, asking for an inquiry.

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Roche was concerned that Thiel did not meet the normal requirements, had not lived up to the commitments he made in his application, and that Guy had not carefully considered the application.

Deputy Auditor-General Greg Schollum said Roche's concerns broadly represented those of the public, but as they did not reveal "systematic" questions they were outside of the authority of the office.

"The issues in this case largely come down to policy questions (for example, whether the legislation strikes the right balance for citizenship decisions) or legal questions (for example, whether the Minister applied section 9(1)(c) correctly or gave weight to the right factors in Mr Thiel's case).

"These are not questions that the Auditor-General generally has authority to answer," he wrote.

Schollum noted that office had looked into the Bill Liu affair, but this was because there were significant worries about the wider citizenship process, which had not been raised in the Thiel case.

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While Thiel made no promise to move to New Zealand in the application - again, usually a requirement - he did indicate that he wished to be an ambassador of sorts for New Zealand abroad, writing that it would give him "great pride" to let it be known that he was a Kiwi citizen.

There is no evidence that Thiel ever did act in this manner and he kept his citizenship completely secret until it was uncovered  by media this year. He is yet to comment on the matter.

Roche told Stuff she was disappointed by the decision.

She would pursue any other avenues of oversight possible but doubted any others would be successful.

"Really that's about it. It makes you wonder whether the law actually needs to be changed to ensure that there is some oversight, or to give the decision to the department rather than a politician - because politicians can be swayed by wealth," Roche said.

"It just doesn't feel right. Most New Zealanders just don't think it is right."

WHO IS PETER THIEL?

Thiel, worth a reported $3.7 billion, 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.

 - Stuff

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