29 Jun 2017

Opposition parties not sold on Thiel deal

5:37 pm on 29 June 2017

The government is standing by its decision to make the controversial American billionaire Peter Thiel a citizen, saying he's a great ambassador for the country.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel Photo: AFP

Internal Affairs was forced to release new information about Peter Thiel's citizenship bid today after the Ombudsman intervened following a complaint from RNZ News.

It showed Mr Thiel had spent just 12 days in the country over the previous five years when then Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy granted him citizenship in 2011 in exceptional circumstances.

Mr Thiel also had no intention of living in New Zealand in the future.

However the government has been less forthcoming on why, for six years, the public had no idea their great ambassador was a New Zealander, only finding out he was a citizen in January this year.

At Parliament this afternoon, Mr Guy was asked to justify his decision given the limited amount of time Mr Thiel had spent here.

He said there were exceptional circumstances involved, and Mr Thiel had made significant investments in New Zealand companies.

"He is a great ambassador for New Zealand, a great salesperson," Mr Guy said.

"He's got incredible reach in Silicon Valley. In fact, the New Zealand media are only interested in this individual because of his connections to the Trump regime."

Nathan Guy

Nathan Guy Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Guy could not explain why the New Zealand public had no idea Mr Thiel had been made a citizen until early 2017.

"I can't answer that, that's something you'd have to go and ask Peter Thiel. That's something to do with DIA and their processes.

"Ultimately the officials came to me with the recommendation that he should be granted citizenship under exceptional circumstances and I agreed with that.

"I backed the decision in 2011, I back the decision now."

The Labour party was not buying that, however, with immigration spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway saying it was an astonishingly unusual decision.

"If Peter Thiel was an amazing ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand we would have found out he was a citizen of New Zealand because he would have told the world that he was a citizen of New Zealand.

"He kept it under wraps. He hasn't gone around telling the world that he's a citizen of New Zealand and that he's proud of New Zealand.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said it looked like citizenship was being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Green co-leader James Shaw 20 June 2017

Green Party co-leader James Shaw Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

"It is utterly remarkable and I have to say I think it throws up serious questions about decision-making processes at Immigration NZ particularly given Peter Thiel provided no compelling reason why it was necessary for him to be a citizen.

"Particularly after spending a grand total of 12 days here."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the decision to make Mr Thiel a citizen was a joke.

"It makes a mockery of any rules that the national party claim to be following. there is one rule for the seriously rich and difficult for everybody else - but then again they've got so many thousands in that category that it's circumvented the criteria that we used to apply."

Mr Peters said Internal Affairs' attempt to keep the number of days Mr Thiel had spent in the country hidden from the public was also very serious, and showed public servants had been politicised.

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