29 Jun 2017

US billionaire spent 12 days in NZ before getting citizenship

2:02 pm on 29 June 2017

US billionaire Peter Thiel spent 12 days in New Zealand before being granted citizenship by the then Internal Affairs Minister in 2011.

PayPal founder-turned-venture-capitalist Peter Thiel at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, 31 October 2016.

Peter Thiel in Washington last year (file photo) Photo: AFP

The entrepreneur was granted citizenship in June 2011 under exceptional circumstances despite not having lived in the country previously and not intending to do so in the future.

Normally a permanent resident has to spend more than 70 percent of their time in New Zealand over five years - more than 1300 days - before they can apply for citizenship.

Mr Thiel applied for an exemption, arguing that given he was an entrepreneur and was involved in philanthropy, it would be in the public interest.

The Department of Internal Affairs had refused to say how many days he had spent in the country at the time he was applying for citizenship, but documents released by the department in February showed he had visited the country four times.

The department today confirmed the exact number of days after the Ombudsman told it to do so, deeming the public interest to outweigh Mr Thiel's right to privacy.

Mr Thiel, 49, who co-founded PayPal and was one of the first investors in Facebook, has invested in New Zealand firms Xero and Pacific Fibre, donated to the Christchurch earthquake relief fund and entered a partnership with government-funded New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

Timeline

  • 9 March, 2001 - A home in Auckland's affluent suburb of Parnell, 6 Alberon Place, is bought for $465,000. The home is listed as the registered address for two companies that Mr Thiel is a shareholder of.
  • New Zealand-based company Second Star - of which Mr Thiel is the sole shareholder - is registered.
  • 24 March, 2010 - 6 Alberon Place is sold for $2.5m by Second Star. Neighbours say they saw Mr Thiel "two or three times" in nine years.
  • 22 October, 2010 - Mr Thiel invests $4m into accounting software company Xero - the first investment by his New Zealand-based company, Valar Ventures. Valar makes further multi-million-dollar investments in Xero in 2012.
  • 12 January, 2011 - Mr Thiel invests an undisclosed amount in Pacific Fibre, the company behind an ultimately failed plan to build a second trans-Pacific fibre optic cable.
  • 20 April, 2011 - Mr Thiel donates $1m to the Christchurch earthquake appeal fund.
  • 30 June, 2011 - Department of Internal Affairs approves Mr Thiel's application for New Zealand citizenship, under a provision of the Citizenship Act stating it would be "in the public interest due to exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature".
  • 20 December, 2011 - NZVIF (Valar) Ltd, a partnership between the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and Valar Ventures, is incorporated under the Companies Act.
  • 22 March, 2012 - The NZVIF-Valar partnership is publicly announced, with Mr Thiel contributing $15m to a total pool of $40m.
  • 12 June, 2013 - Then-Prime Minister John Key responds to questions in Parliament about Mr Thiel, saying he had met Mr Thiel on "a few occasions" and their relationship was cordial. Mr Thiel was "extremely generous" after the Christchurch earthquakes, Mr Key said.
  • 2015 - Mr Thiel purchases land in Wanaka. Due to his citizenship status, it does not require Overseas Investment Office approval.
  • October 2016 - Mr Thiel donates $NZ1.7m to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
  • 25 January, 2017 - After The New Zealand Herald reveals Mr Thiel's citizenship, the Department of Internal Affairs confirms the date it was granted.
  • 1 February, 2017 - Internal Affairs releases documents showing Mr Thiel had not lived in New Zealand and did not intend to when the government granted citizenship, but had made four visits to the country.
  • 29 June, 2017 - Internal Affairs reveals Mr Thiel had spent 12 days in the country at the time of his citizenship application. The department had been told to release the information by the Ombudsman.

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