The news that billionaire investor and Trump supporter Peter Thiel has acquired New Zealand citizenship has triggered questions in Parliament.
The surprising news of Thiel’s Kiwi citizenship, first broken by the Herald yesterday, has drawn international attention with the New York Times, Mashable and Gizmodo noting the development.
Labour Party immigration spokesman Ian Lees-Galloway said the revelation – that Thiel’s 2015 purchase of a 193 hectare estate on Lake Wanaka didn’t require Overseas Investment Office approval because the buyer was a citizen – raised more questions than it answered.
Lees-Galloway said another wealthy North American import – film director James Cameron – had drawn considerable notice when living in New Zealand, raising questions over why Thiel didn’t attract attention.
“I can’t imagine someone of Thiel’s stature and wealth and not being noticed for five years, it just doesn’t seem very likely,” he said.
This morning Lees-Galloway said he lodged written questions in Parliament with Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne seeking to know when Thiel was granted citizenship, under what grounds and whether the venture capitalist billionaire was a resident for tax purposes.
The Herald understands, due to the Parliamentary break, the questions will be required to be answered by February 15.
According to the Department of Internal Affairs website, citizenship requires people to have lived in New Zealand for most of the past five years, or have been born in New Zealand, or have New Zealand parents.
Filings to the Companies Office, requiring directors to provide their residential address, have Thiel only list United States addresses. Thiel is widely reported to have been born in Frankfurt, Germany, to German parents who emigrated to the United States when he was an infant.
An alternate path to the above requires the Minister of Immigration to personally sign off and agree that granting the individual citizenship “would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature”.
Inquiries by the Herald sent to government departments managing the case have yet to result in a substantive response.
The Ministry of Immigration, which handles residency applications – usually a precursor for citizenship – declined to provide any information about the Thiel case.
“Immigration New Zealand said that for privacy reasons it could make no comment,” a spokeswoman said.
The Department of Internal Affairs, which deals with citizenship issues, said late this morning they had only just excavated the Thiel folder from storage and were still formulating a response.
Questions sent yesterday to representative of Thiel were answered by Jeremiah Hall of Torch Communications. “I’ll be back in touch if we have any comment,” he said.
No further correspondence has been forthcoming.