So it turns out that if you are rich enough you can buy New Zealand citizenship. At least that’s what it appears billionaire Peter Thiel did in August 2011. Unlike the average person who applies for New Zealand citizenship, Thiel did not have to meet the residency requirement or prove his intent to live permanently in New Zealand. As a matter of fact, Thiel has never lived in New Zealand and only visited here 4 times. When I applied years ago, I had to prove that I had lived here for 3 years. Today, people who aren’t able to buy their way in have to prove that they have spent at least 70% of their time in New Zealand over a 5-year period and they have to show that they intend to remain in New Zealand, but not Thiel. On top of this, Thiel didn’t even come to New Zealand for his citizenship ceremony. This was a private affair at the New Zealand Consulate in Santa Monica, California.
Apparently, Thiel did some PR for New Zealand before being granted citizenship, as well as some investment in New Zealand businesses, and claimed his connections would help New Zealand companies break into the American market. He also made a donation to the Christchurch rebuild, and said that he would be proud to let others know that he was a New Zealand citizen. Except that his citizenship in this South Pacific island nation has been kept secret up until now when someone questioned why he was allowed to buy up such a large block of land in the South Island.
For those who don’t know much about Peter Thiel, he’s a German-born American. He’s one of the co-founders of the online payment giant PayPal, and co-founder of the data mining company in the Silicon Valley Palantir. He’s also on the board of Facebook, and a supporter and advisor to Donald Trump. According to Thiel’s application for New Zealand citizenship, which was released under the Official Information Act, the Department of Internal Affairs recommended Thiel be granted citizenship under Section 9(1)(c), the exceptional circumstances clause, due to his ‘abilities as an entrepreneur and his work as a philanthropist’ which were seen to be in the public interest.  It should be noted that his application was supported by both Sam Morgan, the founder of TradeMe, and Rod Drury, the CEO and founder of Xero. Both men have had business dealings with Thiel and received generous amounts of money from him for their business ventures.
Reading an article by an economics professor at the University of Canterbury who supports Thiel being granted NZ citizenship, it would appear that all of Thiel’s investments and philanthropic donations to New Zealand occurred prior to his being granted citizenship. So my question to this is what exactly has Thiel been doing to help New Zealand since 2011? Does anyone know? Has he been working with the New Zealand government through Palantir as has been suggested in an article in Stuff? What we do know is that he’s been investing in high-end property in Auckland, Queenstown and Wanaka, and telling his wealthy American friends to do so as well, but this is not in the public interest. This does not help anyone in NZ beyond the real estate agent and those involved in the sale. One could possibly even argue that buying expensive real estate only helps to keep prices high or rising and makes it harder for average Kiwis to get into the market and own their own home. Why are these super wealthy Americans buying up property in New Zealand? According to The New Yorker, they and Thiel want to have a bolthole, a place to escape to, when things go to hell in and handbasket in the States.
Over the past 4 years, 92 other people have also been granted New Zealand citizenship under Section 9(1)(c). What New Zealanders have the right to know is whether Thiel is the only foreigner who’s been allowed to buy his citizenship or if there are others among these 92. Hopefully, there will be an investigation.