3 Feb 2017

Former MP who met Peter Thiel backs citizenship bid

From Morning Report, 7:42 am on 3 February 2017

Former Cabinet Minister Wayne Mapp says he would have "definitely" backed American billionaire Peter Thiel's citizenship bid if he had been asked.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel Photo: AFP

Earlier this week it was revealed Mr Thiel was granted citizenship in 2011 despite only ever visiting New Zealand four times.

His bid was supported by Xero's Rod Drury and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan who wrote in support of him to the Department of Internal Affairs.

Yesterday the Prime Minister Bill English said he had met Mr Thiel - although his memory of the event was a little hazy.

"Well I'm told I met with him in 2010, I think in my office. I don't recall the details of the discussion.

"But I often, in fact I go out of my way to find lateral thinkers, particularly around technology and data-related issues, and I've been fortunate to meet with dozens of them over the years, including others who've come here from the West Coast of the US.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the discussion was about our interests in digitalising government better use of data, what they can contribute to helping us with that," said Mr English.

Former Cabinet Minister Wayne Mapp.

Former Cabinet Minister Wayne Mapp. Photo: Supplied / Parliament

Former Cabinet Minister Wayne Mapp says he met Mr Thiel in the US when he was establishing a base for New Zealand technology companies to interact with Silicon Valley.

"It was seen by the industry at the time as a key way of connecting businesses from New Zealand, which are obviously smaller than US ones, with key players - and Peter Thiel was completely networked across all of that and knew all of the main people.

"He was famous as an entrepreneur," said Dr Mapp.

Mr Mapp says he would have granted Mr Thiel New Zealand citizenship if he'd been in the position of former Immigration Minister Nathan Guy.

"It's not fundamentally about money, obviously that matters, but it's fundamentally about the relationships and the connections and the commitment.

"He was passionate about New Zealand. He may not have visited New Zealand very often but he had a feel about us and it seemed to align with his own way of thinking," said Dr Mapp.