Billionaire Peter Thiel Sparks New Zealand Passport-for-Sale Row

  • Thiel granted New Zealand citizenship after just four visits
  • Opposition says government turning citizenship into commodity

Peter Thiel

Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

Tech billionaire and Trump adviser Peter Thiel has sparked a passport-for-sale row in New Zealand after it was revealed he was granted citizenship in 2011 despite visiting the nation only four times.

Thiel’s application was approved by the New Zealand government on the grounds his entrepreneurial skills and philanthropy were beneficial to the country, even though he didn’t meet the standard criteria or intend to live there, official documents released late Wednesday in Wellington show.

New Zealand has become a preferred bolthole for the ultra rich as they seek a haven from global political uncertainty and terror threats. Opposition parties accuse the government of turning citizenship into an asset wealthy foreigners can buy, a claim Prime Minister Bill English has denied.

“New Zealand looks very attractive when the world is as insecure and turbulent as it is at the moment, but that doesn’t mean our citizenship should be a commodity that’s up for sale,” Labour Party immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway told Radio New Zealand on Thursday.

Investment, Philanthropy

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal Holdings Inc. and was an early shareholder in Facebook Inc., has a net worth of $3.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has invested in New Zealand accounting software company Xero Ltd., given NZ$1 million ($730,000) to the Christchurch earthquake relief effort and, according to local media reports, bought several multi-million dollar properties around the country.

The citizenship documents were released by the Department of Internal Affairs after the New Zealand Herald reported that Thiel had been able to purchase a large tract of land on the South Island without needing approval as a foreign investor.

In a letter supporting his citizenship application released with the documents, Thiel wrote in March 2011: “It would be of great pride to let it be known that I am a New Zealand citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country and its emerging high tech industry.”

“I am happy to say categorically that I have found no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand,” Thiel wrote.

Xero founder Rod Drury said New Zealand should be courting the wealthy elite because of the money and connections they bring. Offering citizenship to people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg “could absolutely be part of our toolkit,” he told RNZ.

Trade Me founder Sam Morgan, who along with Drury made a written submission in support of Thiel’s citizenship, said Thursday New Zealand should be “encouraging more such immigrants.”

“I don’t agree with Peter Thiel’s politics at all,” Morgan tweeted. However, “I don’t think most NZ’ers understand just how valuable opening up to foreign investment and talent networks really is to us.”

Jeremiah Hall, a spokesman for Thiel, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE