Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech mogul and high profile Trump supporter, was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011, a fact that only came to light back in January. But the politician in charge of granting citizenship at the time has now defended the unusual move, calling Thiel a “great ambassador” for the country.
The New Zealand Herald reports today that Thiel spent just 12 days in New Zealand before being granted citizenship, which is raising eyebrows in the island nation. New Zealand law typically requires a person to live in the country for the majority of at least five years before they can apply for citizenship. Thiel obtained citizenship in a ceremony performed in Santa Monica, California after being granted a special exemption.
Nathan Guy, the Minister of Internal Affairs in 2011 who made the exemption, said Thiel has made “great investments” to New Zealand and has been “a great ambassador,” despite the fact that his citizenship was a secret until very recently.
“This story got legs because of his connection to the Trump regime,” Guy was quoted as saying in the New Zealand Herald. Thiel was a member of Trump’s transition team and has been a major force in bringing Silicon Valley into the White House. Most recently, he attended a meeting on June 19th at the White House where other tech industry titans like Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook were present.
But Matt Nippert, who has been reporting on the story for the paper, has pushed back on the assertion that people in New Zealand only care about Thiel’s citizenship because Trump is unpopular in the country. Nippert insists he’d still be tracking this story even if Hillary Clinton was president of the United States.
Nippert apparently hasn’t been able to get a comment from Peter Thiel since the story broke and calls the tech icon New Zealand’s “deep cover ambassador.”
Nippert also poked fun at the fact that he’s going on a vacation to Vietnam soon that will last 23 days, almost twice the amount of time Thiel spent in New Zealand before being granted citizenship.
New Zealanders in the tech community who once welcomed Thiel’s attention have made it a point to say that it wasn’t their decision to grant him citizenship, only that he would be good for business in the country. Reporter John Campbell had the CEO of Icehouse, a New Zealand tech incubator, on his show today to discuss the controversy.
“I’m about creating friendships and investment partnerships with people,” said Icehouse CEO Andrew Hamilton in an interview posted to YouTube. “I’m not about making the decision as to whether or not he should’ve got residency and, you know, got a passport. That wasn’t about me. I was asked to say, ‘Is he legit, is he valid, is he helping?’ And he is all those things.”
But when pressed by Campbell about how much Thiel’s been helping New Zealand since being granted citizenship, Hamilton was less enthusiastic.
“He was [helpful] around that time,” Hamilton said, referring to 2011. “Has he more recently? No, because his attention’s gone elsewhere.”
Hamilton went on to say that he believes if another high profile billionaire tried to acquire citizenship in the same way today, it wouldn’t happen.
Thiel has never responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment on his Kiwi citizenship, nor has he gotten back to us about whether he has citizenship with any other nation. We’ve reached out again to representatives to Mr. Thiel and will update this post if we hear back.
The New Zealand Herald asked Nathan Guy about why Thiel has kept his New Zealand citizenship a secret until it was revealed after a fluke inquiry into a land purchase. Thiel bought 477 acres of land in New Zealand in 2015, which was only recently investigated by reporters because of its protected status.
“I don’t know indeed why he’s kept it secret,” Guy told the Herald. “I can’t answer that, that’s something you’d need to get from Peter Thiel.”