DIA suggested tightening of the rules after Peter Thiel citizenship | Stuff.co.nz

More background on the advice involved and the way the government was played:

The Department of Internal Affairs suggested a tightening of the rules around ministerial grants of citizenship after the case of tech billionaire Peter Thiel came to light.

Then-minister Peter Dunne was interested in the proposed reforms, which included an open citizenship register, but did not manage to enact them before leaving Government.

It emerged in early 2017 that Thiel, a controversial backer of US President Donald Trump, had gained New Zealand citizenship despite spending only 12 days in the country as a resident. Potential citizens usually have to spend at least 1350 days in the country over a period of five years.

In 2011 then-Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy had granted him the citizenship using a special clause in the law giving ministers discretion to waive the rules in “exceptional circumstances” that were in the public interest.

Guy was advised to grant the citizenship under the clause as Thiel was a skilled and philanthropic investor.

Peter Dunne was receptive to the advice, saying ministers should be comfortable with their citizenship decisions making it to the front page of a newspaper.

Thiel had offered to assist with the establishment of an Auckland-based technology company and a “landing pad” in San Francisco to help New Zealand technology companies break into the US market. His lawyers pointed to his large investments in New Zealand technology companies and donation to the Canterbury earthquake recovery.

Guy said it had been in New Zealand’s economic interest to provide the citizenship and that Thiel had been a “great ambassador” for the country – despite Thiel keeping his citizenship secret for six years.

Soon after the citizenship came to light the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) briefed then-minister Dunne on steps he could take to tighten up the process and make it more transparent.

“There is an opportunity to make changes that will help address possible perceptions of undue influence, and better ensure public confidence in the citizenship process,” officials wrote to Dunne.

Suggested changes included an “open citizenship register,” a writing into law of which factors could be used when considering “exceptional circumstances,” and even setting out specific exception for activities such as vast financial investment.

Another option would be a periodic independent assessment of all of these decisions, which are relatively rare, by the Auditor General.

Speaking on Thursday, Dunne said he was interested in some of the changes but decided to wait until a planned review of citizenship laws after the election.

“The chances of getting any legislation prepared and passed before the election were practically zero,” Dunne said.

Asked if said changes would have gotten assent from the National Party, who led the Government, Dunne said he hadn’t gotten to the stage of asking them yet.

“I was certainly not opposed to it…the circumstances of the case do give us a wake up call be absolutely transparent and as upfront as we can be,” Dunne said.

“In the wake of the Thiel debacle a lot of stuff arose not so much about the exercise of ministerial discretion, but frankly how his case got so far advanced. This is someone who spent 12 days in the country.”

Dunne thought independent assessment of the decisions was a good idea but suggested the Ombudsman vet the decisions rather than the Auditor General. He also had concerns about the implications of an open citizenship register for those fleeing persecution.

He said any minister should be able to give reasons for their decision and should be comfortable with it possibly ending up on the front page of a newspaper.

New Internal Affairs minister Tracey Martin said she too was keen on tightening up the process and making sure it was transparent.

“I think there is a conversation that needs to be had around transparency. Particularly when the rules are so clearly altered by the minister or ignored by the minister,” Martin said.

She said public confidence in the system had been “rocked” by the Thiel case but she hoped the public would have confidence in her as a new minister.​

via DIA suggested tightening of the rules after Peter Thiel citizenship | Stuff.co.nz

New Zealand may tighten law that allows mega wealthy to buy citizenship | The Guardian

Need review following the Thiel case:

New Zealand’s new Labour government will reconsider legislation that allows wealthy foreigners to effectively buy citizenship, the housing minister has said.

In an interview with the Guardian about the housing shortage in New Zealand, Phil Twyford said the law that allowed Trump donor and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel to become a citizen and buy a bolt hole in the South Island would come under scrutiny.

Since coming into power last week, Labour has said it will ban foreigners from buying existing homes, along with a slew of policies aimed at addressing the housing crisis, which has seen homelessness grow to more than 40,000 people.

However, the ban will not apply to foreigners who gain citizenship in New Zealand – a loophole that billionaire Thiel used, after spending a total of 12 days in the country.

Thiel’s fast-tracked citizenship allowed him to buy multiple properties in New Zealand, even though he told the government he had no intention of living in the country, but would be an “ambassador” for New Zealand overseas instead, and provide contacts for New Zealand entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley.

“That was a discretionary decision that was made at the time [Thiel’s citizenship], and we were very critical. Our policy, banning people would apply to everybody, regardless of how much money they have or what country they come from,” Twyford said.

“We haven’t announced policy on that [tightening the investment immigration criteria] but I think it is probably something that we are likely to look at.”

Twyford said New Zealand’s ban on foreign buyers was modelled on similar legislation in Australia, and was designed to ensure New Zealanders can once again achieve the Kiwi dream of owning their own home.

“We’ve seen house prices in our biggest city Auckland double in the last nine years, we’ve got the lowest rate of home-ownership since 1951, and we have what the Salvation Army describes as the worst homelessness in living memory,” said Twyford, who has only officially been in office one day.

“Housing has come to be seen as an investment asset primarily, rather than a place for people to live and bring up a family. Off-shore money coming into the market has been a significant contributor to that.”

The ban – to be introduced within 100 days – will apply to every nationality and every income bracket worldwide, including Australians, and will apply equally to business, trusts, companies and individuals.

For foreigners to be able to purchase property they’ll need to become a permanent resident or citizen of New Zealand – which will become increasingly difficult with Labour pledging to slash high-rates of immigration – a record 70,000 last year.

The ban on buying foreign homes will only apply to existing dwellings, with Twyford saying New Zealand would continue to “welcome” overseas buyers who wanted to build new homes, or invest in apartment blocks.

According to Twyford, Auckland had built up a shortage of 40,000 homes, with the deficit increasing by 7,000 every year at the current build rate. Among Labour’s new policies is a plan to build 100,000 affordable homes in New Zealand within the next decade, stop the sell-off of state housing and build new state housing.

“Uncontrolled foreign investement for the purposes of speculation is actually destructive and it is a feature of a housing market that has utterly failed…We expect it [the ban] will be permanent, ” said Twyford, who added the government would increase the length of tenancies for renters and introduce legislation ensuring rental properties were insulated, warm and dry within 100 days.

“We don’t see any benefit to people who are not citizens or permanent residents of this country being able to speculate in housing and make a profit at the expense of generation rent.”

Source: New Zealand may tighten law that allows mega wealthy to buy citizenship | World news | The Guardian

NZ Auditor-General won’t investigate Thiel citizenship | Otago Daily Times

While appears to be the correct decision given the broad authority granted to the minister, the bad smell will not go away:

The Auditor-General will not be conducting an inquiry into the decision to grant citizenship to San Francisco-based billionaire investor Peter Thiel, said deputy controller and Auditor-General Greg Schollum in response to a request from Green Party MP Denise Roche.

Ms Roche called on the Auditor-General to look into the decision after it came to light that in June 2011 then Minister of Internal Affairs Nathan Guy, approved Mr Thiel’s application for citizenship under the “exceptional circumstances” provisions of the Citizenship Act.

According to Mr Schollum, the provisions allow the minister to grant citizenship to someone who may not satisfy the normal criteria for citizenship, but where granting citizenship “would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant”.

He noted act gives the minister “broad discretion” and the section does not specify what these terms mean or how the minister’s discretion should be exercised. “This means the legislation allows for considerable flexibility on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

He said the issues largely come down to policy questions – for example, whether the legislation strikes the right balance for citizen decisions – or legal questions such as whether the provisions were applied correctly. “These are not questions that the Auditor-General generally has authority to answer,” Mr Schollum said.

Mr Thiel is a member of US President Donald Trump’s transition team, having donated to his campaign, and is a long-time libertarian who has in the past invested in the exploration of seasteading, the development of a floating city in international waters which could serve as a politically autonomous settlement.

Source: Auditor-General won’t investigate Thiel citizenship | Otago Daily Times Online News

New Zealand gave Peter Thiel citizenship after he spent just 12 days there | The Guardian

Pretty scandalous on many accounts. Revocation on grounds of fraud or misrepresentation?

Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of Paypal, was granted New Zealandcitizenship despite spending only 12 days in the country, new documents have revealed.

The government ombudsmen has forced New Zealand authorities to release further details of Thiel’s highly unusual citizenship process because it was deemed in the public interest.

On Thursday, Nathan Guy – who oversaw Thiel’s citizenship application as minister of internal affairs in 2011 – said Theil had been “a great ambassador for New Zealand, a great salesperson”. “He is a fine individual, good character, he has invested a lot in New Zealand, he’s got great reach into the US and I am very comfortable with the decision that I made.”

The billionaire entrepreneur who is a close adviser to Donald Trump, was granted New Zealand citizenship in June 2011, after taking four brief trips to the country. He made it clear he had no immediate plans to settle in the country.

The usual route to citizenship requires applicants to be in New Zealand as a permanent resident for at least 1,350 days in the five years preceding an application.

The New Zealand government granted Thiel citizenship due to his “exceptional circumstances”, and because it was understood he would promote New Zealand on the global stage, and provide introductions and contacts for New Zealand start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Official information documents stated Thiel’s “exceptional circumstances” related to “his skills as an entrepreneur and his philanthropy”, which were deemed to be of potential benefit to New Zealanders and the country. The formal citizenship process took place in a private ceremony in Santa Monica in 2011.

In his application for citizenship Thiel stated that although he had no plans to reside in New Zealand, and did not work for a New Zealand business overseas, he intended to “represent the country on the international stage”. He also donated NZ$1m to the Christchurch earthquake relief fund, and bought prime land and luxury homes in New Zealand.

Despite this intention Thiel never appeared to mention his New Zealand citizenship in any public capacity – it was revealed by New Zealand media this year.

Labour’s immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway told Radio NZ that Thiel was not promoting New Zealand internationally as he’d stated in his application, as no one knew about his citizenship or ties to New Zealand for six years.

“If Peter Thiel was an amazing ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand we would have found out he was a citizen of New Zealand because he would have told the world that he was a citizen of New Zealand,” Lees-Galloway said. “He kept it under wraps. He hasn’t gone around telling the world that he’s a citizen of New Zealand and that he’s proud of New Zealand.”

Source: New Zealand gave Peter Thiel citizenship after he spent just 12 days there | World news | The Guardian

Peter Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship: Billionaires get citizenship abroad so they can run from the problems they create — Quartz

Thiel’s safety hatch citizenship, assessed by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, the author of The Cosmopolites (another take on the themes of Chrystia Freeland’s book, Plutocrats):

We don’t know the exact details of Thiel’s naturalization yet, but it’s hard to imagine that his exorbitant wealth didn’t help. New Zealand offers residence permits to rich investors—the hacker Kim Dotcom, who’s facing extradition to the United States, bought his way there by investing millions of dollars—and grants citizenship in special circumstances to people who don’t meet the five-year residence requirements.

In these discretionary cases, New Zealand’s immigration minister has to personally approve the petition and deem it “in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature.” (Thiel does not appear to have won any prizes for his humanitarian efforts.)

Thiel’s opinions will affect some 300 million Americans, most of whom who do not have a backup passport—or indeed, even the funds for a plane ticket abroad.  More and more countries are adopting special citizenship laws to let in extraordinarily rich or talented people, whether it’s athletes, experts, or entrepreneurs. As I note in my book, The Cosmopolites, for your average billionaire, having a Plan B country has become practically de rigueur. Citizenship-by-investment is estimated to be a $2 billion a year business. A half-dozen countries, from tiny specks in the Caribbean like Antigua to EU member states like Malta, openly sell their passport to wealthy individuals so long as they are not known criminals. Even the US effectively sells green cards through its EB-5 investor program.

It’s one thing for a wealthy private citizen to buy herself options to make traveling, living, and working abroad easier. Hypocrisy among Trump’s inner circle—and indeed, in all contemporary American politics—is hardly breaking news. And the irony of a Trump confidante revealing himself to be a rootless globalist is admittedly delectable. It’s also not all that surprising: Trump’s pick for trade secretary, Robert Lighthizer, has attended the Davos World Economic Forum 15 times.

The fact that Thiel can easily run away from the very rules and regulations he’ll be helping Trump shape, however, is not funny in the least. Thiel is in a position of immense power as Trump’s advisor. His opinions will affect some 300 million Americans, most of whom who do not have a backup passport—or indeed, even the funds for a plane ticket abroad. The ease with which Thiel can opt out of American society speaks to the very concerns that conservatives themselves have voiced about the denationalized “Davos man” for decades. When Samuel Huntington worried in 2004 that America’s elites were “seceding,” he could have easily been talking about Thiel—or any number of Trump’s cabinet appointees, for that matter.

 It is the current system of passports and nations and states, along with moralistic attitudes about patriotism, that enables the rich to opt out. On the surface, there seem to be immense contradictions between the nationalist, populist, protectionist rhetoric that Trump spouts and the acquisitive globalism of a Peter Thiel type. But these twin ideologies coalesce in a mutually supportive way. Trump said in a December speech that there is no world currency, no world flag, and no world passport. That’s true. But the continued primacy of the nation-state is precisely why the practice of “sovereignty hacking” or “jurisdiction shopping,” as exemplified by citizenship-by-investment programs and offshore tax registries, has become so prevalent among those who can afford it. Picking and choosing residencies, citizenships, and tax regimes helps the wealthy exist as though the world had no borders at all, which means they can throw their support behind nationalist policies that will close off options to everyone else. It is the current system of passports and nations and states, along with moralistic attitudes about patriotism, that enables the rich to opt out.

Thiel knows this world very, very well. In fact, Thiel apparently found the concept of hacking sovereignty so compelling that in 2008, he gave his personal and financial support to the Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that promotes the creation of artificial floating nations in international waters. The political philosophy behind seasteading can be summed up as follows:

  1. Governments are bad

  2. Governments have a monopoly on sovereignty

  3. Governments would be less bad if they had to compete on the open market with each other for capital, companies, citizens, and ideas

  4. No one can compete with governments because governments control the world’s land

  5. The only spaces that aren’t controlled by existing governments are in international waters

  6. Creating lots of new countries in international waters will increase competition and make all governments better

Source: Peter Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship: Billionaires get citizenship abroad so they can run from the problems they create — Quartz