Bil­lion­aire 12-day ‘Kiwi’ now ‘great am­bas­sador’

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - HENRY COOKE

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

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