It looks like Peter Thiel wants a back-up plan. Whether his back-up wants him is another question.
While investigating who owned a substantial property in Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, the New Zealand Herald uncovered that the Trump cheerleader and venture capitalist was a New Zealand citizen.
On Wednesday, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) confirmed to Mashable that Thiel had New Zealand citizenship approved on June 30, 2011. They didn’t say why it was approved however, or by whom.
A local politician is now asking how exactly Thiel got the tick of approval. As first reported by the Herald, Iain Lees-Galloway, the Labour spokesperson for immigration, has tabled written questions in parliament on matter.
Lees-Galloway told Mashable he wants to know under what criteria the Facebook investor achieved citizenship. As he explained, a person is ordinarily required to spend at least 70 percent of their time in New Zealand over five years to become a citizen.
“It just seems unlikely to me, and to a lot of other people, that a person of his wealth and prominence could live in a small country like New Zealand for a five year period completely unnoticed,” he said.
The government can provide exemptions to this rule. For example, if granting someone citizenship would be in the public interest due to humanitarian needs. Lees-Galloway also wants to know if Thiel was required to become a local resident for tax purposes.
The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) told Mashable that “from time to time the Department may make a recommendation to the Minister of Internal Affairs, that where an applicant does not clearly meet these criteria, the Minister may exercise discretion to grant New Zealand citizenship where there are exceptional circumstances and/or if it would be in the public interest to do so.” It did not specify if this was how Thiel received his citizenship.
“If it were the case that people who had supported Mr. Trump were now looking to buy themselves some insurance in New Zealand, that would be somewhat hypocritical.”
Thiel has invested in a number of New Zealand technology companies, including the accounting software startup Xero. Lees-Galloway said he welcomed the contribution, but the question remained: “Did the fact that he’s a wealthy person give him the opportunity to jump the queue for New Zealand citizenship? … Regardless of the investments he’s made, that is something I don’t think would be acceptable to most New Zealanders.”
In a recent New Yorker article, a murderer’s row of technology heavyweights described how they were buying New Zealand properties as an escape hatch “if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California.”
In response, the New Zealand politician said there is concern locally about land being bought by wealthy foreigners. He was also not blind to the irony of Trump supporters buying themselves a way out. Although given Thiel became a citizen in 2011, his application was well in advance of the Trump presidency.
“Certainly, if it were the case that people who had supported Mr. Trump were now looking to buy themselves some insurance in New Zealand, that would be somewhat hypocritical,” Lees-Galloway said.
Local real estate agent Graham Wall, who is mentioned in the New Yorker piece as having Thiel as a client, told Mashable he helped the American purchase property in Wanaka. He said he was aware at the time that Thiel was a citizen, noting that he was a “big supporter of New Zealand.”
“He is very, very private and yet there he is endorsing the president on the world stage,” Wall commented. “An unusual guy.”
Thiel is also the founder of The Seasteading Institute, a group that hopes to build offshore, floating libertarian cities. In 2011, he told Business Insider that New Zealand was a “utopia,” but apparently made no mention of his citizenship application.
“If there’s nothing to see here, then the people who have the answers should come forward and give us the answers,” Lees-Galloway added.
Representatives of Thiel have been contacted by Mashable for comment.