29 Jun 2017

Who is Peter Thiel?

3:45 pm on 29 June 2017

Peter Thiel, who was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011 despite only visiting the country a handful of times, is a storied US investor and entrepreneur.

The then President-elect Donald Trump with Peter Thiel in December 2016.

US President Donald Trump, at the time president-elect, with Peter Thiel in December 2016. Photo: AFP

Officials today revealed Mr Thiel had spent only 12 days in New Zealand at the time of his application, after the Department of Internal Affairs was told by the Ombudsman to release the information, deeming it in the public interest.

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

His application was supported by Xero founder Rod Drury and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan.

Mr Thiel, 49, is reportedly worth $US2.7 billion after making his fortune in the tech boom in the early 2000s.

Recently, he was a donor to Donald Trump's election campaign and a technology adviser to the president-elect.

Biographies of Mr Thiel do not say he was a superlative coder. He was, instead, a maths and chess wizz. In high school he topped a California-wide maths test and ranked seventh in the US in chess in his early teens.

Mr Thiel read Ayn Rand and admired Ronald Reagan at school and went on to study philosophy and law at Stanford University - where he founded a conservative newspaper.

He then spent time as a commodities lawyer and derivatives trader but was dissatisfied.

He moved to California in the mid '90s at the start of the tech boom and co-founded PayPal. He was one of the first investors in Facebook and has since started a raft of tech, finance and venture capital firms.

Politics, seasteading and life extension

The Seasteading Institute wants to build a floating city in the Pacific.

The Seasteading Institute, which Thiel has given money to, wants to build a floating city in the Pacific. Photo: Supplied / The Seasteading Institute

Mr Thiel is known as a libertarian, and in an essay in 2009 he declared that freedom and democracy were incompatible and that technology was the only way to make a difference in the world.

He advocated exploring the possibilities of colonising space as an "escape from world politics", but thought "seasteading" (making permanent floating cities on the ocean away from the grasp of national governments) was more realistic than space travel.

He co-founded the Seasteading Institute, which works to make that a reality, and has also backed groups working on extending the human lifespan.

In 2014 on Bloomberg TV he said he was taking pills in an effort to extend his life, and he is reportedly interested in the process of parabiosis - injecting oneself with blood donated by young people - something that has been satirised on the HBO television show Silicon Valley.

Hulk Hogan and Middle Earth

TV personality Terry Bollea aka Hulk Hogan leaves a press conference in 2012 after discussing legal action being brought on his behalf.

TV personality Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, leaves a news conference in 2012 after discussing legal action being brought on his behalf. Photo: AFP

In 2012-13, he gave $US10m to Hulk Hogan to help sue news site Gawker, which had made public a sex tape involving the wrestler.

Hogan took Gawker to court demanding $US140m for breach of privacy, and won, which led to the site shutting down. It eventually settled with the wrestler for $US31m.

The New York Times reported that Mr Thiel supported Hogan because he wanted to curb Gawker's "bullying". The website had outed him as being gay in 2007.

In January the New Yorker published an article about a group of tech and finance executives devoted to survivalism - getting off the grid and preparing for a coming societal collapse.

It said New Zealand was seen as a "favoured refuge in the event of a cataclysm" by the wealthy in Silicon Valley.

The article did not say whether Mr Thiel was among that group, but said he was among high-net-worth individuals to have bought property in this country.

And one last fun fact: Mr Thiel seems to be a Tolkien fanatic. He has named a number of companies for characters in the author's books, some of which require an expert level knowledge of Middle Earth to discern, including: Rivendell LLC, Mithril Capital, Arda Capital and Valar Ventures.

Maybe that's another reason why he was drawn to New Zealand?

- RNZ / BBC