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Minister can't recall Thiel citizenship

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/01/2017 Sean Martin
Peter Thiel © Getty Images Peter Thiel

US billionaire Peter Thiel was granted New Zealand citizenship on the advice of government officials but the minister responsible says he can't remember the application.

Nathan Guy was internal affairs minister at the time the PayPal founder sought citizenship in 2011, five years after buying a home in Auckland.

It was revealed this week he purchased another New Zealand property, a lakefront estate at Wanaka in 2015 and the sale did not require Overseas Investment Office approval because he a New Zealand citizen

Rather than meeting the Department of Internal Affairs' requirements that a person must live in New Zealand for at least 70 per cent of the five years preceding their application, Mr Thiel was granted citizenship based on special circumstances.

Mr Guy says he can't recall the specific application but acted on the department's advice.

"As minister I tended to follow the advice of DIA officials on these issues; I'm advised officials recommended granting citizenship in this particular case," he said in a statement.

It's understood Mr Thiel's citizenship was granted because of a section of legislation that allows the usual rules to be avoided if it's in the public interest, or because of exceptional circumstances of humanitarian or other nature.

DIA said while it doesn't usually discuss individual cases there was "sufficient public interest" to warrant comment in Mr Thiel's case.

It confirmed he was approved for citizenship on June 30, 2011.

A spokesman was unable to provide examples of exceptional circumstances that are considered where a person does not meet the usual Citizenship Act requirements.

Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway has written to current internal affairs minister Peter Dunne questioning Mr Thiel's citizenship, including seeking answers on the evidence considered in the billionaire's application.

He said while Mr Thiel had invested in two New Zealand tech ventures it was not enough to give him preferential treatment.

"There is no evidence of impropriety in this case, but New Zealanders pride ourselves on being an egalitarian nation where citizenship is not for sale, and that idea must be upheld," he said.

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