Peter Dunne wouldn't have approved Peter Thiel's citizenship

Current internal affairs minister Peter Dunne says he wouldn't have given Thiel citizenship.

Current internal affairs minister Peter Dunne says he wouldn't have given Thiel citizenship.

Peter Thiel seems to have gotten his timing bang-on.

The controversial billionaire, a backer of US President Donald Trump, was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011 by special grant.

He was far from meeting the eligibility criteria, having only visited the country for 12 days in the five years prior - 1338 days less than the normal requirement.

Thiel (right) with US President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Thiel (right) with US President Donald Trump earlier this year.

But then-internal affairs minister Nathan Guy granted him citizenship anyway, using a "public interest" exception built into the law.

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Guy stood by his decision - calling Thiel a "great ambassador" for New Zealand despite the fact that he kept his citizenship completely secret for six years - but the new minister doesn't agree.

Nathan Guy, who approved Thiel's citizenship, says he has been a great ambassador.

Nathan Guy, who approved Thiel's citizenship, says he has been a great ambassador.

Speaking to TVNZ on Sunday, current Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne said he wouldn't have given citizenship to Thiel.

"I wasn't the minister at the the time - on the basis of the information I've seen, the answer is probably no," said Dunne.

He said special circumstances applications came to his desk from time to time.

"You deal with each one on its merits. All I'm saying is that on the basis of the public information that I've seen I probably would have taken a different decision."

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Guy said earlier this week that he had approved 833 exceptional circumstances citizenships during his time as Internal Affairs Minister, and he didn't regret this one or any others.

"I back the decision in 2011, I back the decision now....He's a great ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand."

Guy couldn't recall if any of the other 833 citizenships he considered were for anyone who had been in the country as little as Thiel had.

Dunne and Guy were members of the same government but came from different political parties. None of Guy's National party colleagues had questioned the decision.

Thiel's New Zealand citizenship was revealed in January of this year.

The PayPal co-founder and Trump backer had never lived in New Zealand long-term and made clear in his application he didn't plan to any time soon. 

Prime Minister Bill English said earlier this week that Thiel had been committed to New Zealand and that he was happy with the contribution he had made to the country.

English rejected the idea that Thiel had "bought" citizenship, saying "it's just someone who is able to contribute, that includes investment, and we are happy with the result of that."


Thiel, worth a reported $3.7 billion, rose to fame as the co-founder of electronic payment company 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.

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 was 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 was the co-founder of Palantir, a secretive data analysis company that worked with several spy agencies, including, potentially, New Zealand's.

 - Stuff

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