Billionaire 12-day ‘Kiwi’ now ‘great ambassador’
The minister who gave American billionaire Peter Thiel citizenship says he has been a ‘‘great ambassador’’ for New Zealand – despite Thiel keeping it secret for six years.
It emerged yesterday that Thiel spent only 12 days in New Zealand as a resident before becoming a citizen.
Usually potential citizens have to spend at least 1350 days in New Zealand over a five-year period (70 per cent) before being eligible but Thiel was given a special circumstances dispensation when he became a citizen in 2011.
The 12 days in the five years were spread over four trips.
Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship was revealed in January of this year.
The PayPal co-founder and Trump backer has never lived in New Zealand long-term and made clear in his application he did not plan to any time soon.
Nathan Guy, who was minister of internal affairs at the time, gave Thiel a special grant in the ‘‘public interest’’.
Thiel’s application noted his considerable investments in New Zealand technology companies such as Xero and Pacific Fibre. There was also discussion of a $1 million donation to the Canterbury rebuild.
The exact amount of time that Thiel spent in New Zealand before gaining citizenship was redacted by the Department of Internal Affairs when it released documents relating to the application as it ruled it would infringe on his privacy.
But the ombudsman agreed that the public interest in the issue outweighed privacy concerns.
There is a provision for a shorter period of presence in the law, where a resident has to spend only 450 days in a 20-month period before applying – but Thiel also failed that test.
Guy said he stood by his decision in 2011.
‘‘This guy has made a signifi- cant investment here in New Zealand. If you think back to 2011, at the time we were coming through a global financial crisis, we were rebuilding Christchurch, and this individual had stepped up and said: yes I want to be a part of the rebuild,’’ Guy said.
‘‘He’s a great ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand.
‘‘He’s promoting New Zealand all the time, to people in the US, it’s a very important market.’’
Guy signed 833 special citizenship grants in his time as internal affairs minister, but he could not recall whether any other citizens had been granted citizenship after so little time in the country.
Billionaire Peter Thiel