Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

New Zealand: Billionaires' playground

Peter Thiel, American entrepreneur. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Peter Thiel, American entrepreneur. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand is fast becoming a favourite spot for global billionaires. We take a look at who some of them are and what brings them here.

Global billionaires are increasingly drawn to New Zealand, pulled from the other side of the world by our pristine coastlines and easy lifestyle.

American Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel and Russian steel billionaire Alexander Abramov are newcomers along with Tony Malkin, whose family interests own New York's Empire State Building. He bent Prime Minister John Key's ear over Christchurch and has bought a property near Queenstown.

Little is written or known about these secretive billionaires' activities here - they clearly like it that way - and Murray Horton, secretary/organiser of the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, said the billionaires might slip under the radar.

"If they're simply buying a house - albeit a far from simple house, as they're billionaires- that's not our issue.

That's immigration. If it involves rural land, that is a different story," he said, telling how the Christchurch-headquartered organisation has for many years decried alien investors.

"Who owns and profits from our banks, supermarkets, media companies, telecommunications companies, airlines, transport companies, insurance companies, etc, etc, etc, is a matter of national significance which affects everyone in the country, one which is rapidly becoming a branch office economy dominated by transnational corporations," Mr Horton says.

Precisely how much property Australia's richest person, multibillionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, has here is open to speculation but real estate experts say she owns the downtown ferry building in Quay St opposite QEII Square in Auckland's heart.

Real estate sources said she bought the building via Don Harrington when he was at Jones Land LaSalle and the party who negotiated the purchase was a New Zealand lawyer. Her other jewels include the Blacketts building in Queen St whose ground-floor tenancy is closed temporarily for shoe retailer Florsheim's makeover.

"He purchased a number of properties for her - the shoe shop at the corner of Queen and Shortland, Zivo House corner of K Rd and Liverpool St. I always understood the owner is the second to richest female in Australia and based in Perth. Her money comes from iron ore and she owns substantial real estate in the States and keeps a very low profile," one agency expert said.

Most certainly, a far richer person has a big stake in the city.

The billionaire Sultan of Brunei has for many years owned what used to be called BNZ Tower, once Auckland's tallest, at 125 Queen St, although this building is now a ghostly incarnation of its former self, hollowed out by the Brookfield Multiplex and all the bank staff now gone to the firm's new national headquarters directly across the road at 80 Queen St.

Australian billionaires the Lowy family get millions of shopper visits annually and will soon double the floor area of St Lukes, their suburban Auckland flagship.

American billionaire William Foley became the outright owner of Te Kairanga Wines in Martinborough in December after the Overseas Investment Office granted him approval.

Land Information NZ documents showed Foley Family Wines bought the business last year for more than $11 million and Mr Foley and his wife, Carol, own several American wineries.

They have been here for some time, owning more than half of the luxury Wharekauhau Lodge in South Wairarapa. Their interest here is not unlike Julian Robertson, the American hedge fund billionaire with a string of luxury New Zealand resorts.

Work on billionaire Graeme Hart's enormous new yacht at the Wynyard Quarter is under way in what could be New Zealand's largest marine refit. The country's richest man had the hulk of the Weta - or U77 - brought from Chile to Auckland and despite little apparent progress, insiders say the work is continuing apace.

But it will take a long time so don't expect to see any progress, said one party with links to the work which has delighted a select number of Auckland marine engineers and specialist designers who say they are honoured to score the job during the financial downturn.

Chinese billionaires are drawn here too. Four years ago, the Overseas Investment Office said the purchase of Vector's Wellington network by Cheung Kong Infrastructure, run by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing, was the year's largest deal.

Real estate business Savills, in its latest world cities review, found global billionaires "had weathered the latest economic uncertainty better than many with ultra high net worth individuals increasingly storing their wealth in bricks and mortar.

"Safe-haven cities like New York performed particularly well. The value of billionaire property in New York increased by 17 per cent in the final half of 2011, fuelled by super-wealthy overseas buyers from Russia, China, Brazil and Argentina seeking condominium investments."

WHO THEY ARE

Billionaires with NZ links:

* Peter Thiel, United States
* Alexander Abramov, Russia
* Tony Malkin, United States
* Gina Rinehart, Australia
* Sultan of Brunei
* Julian Robertson, United States
* Lowy family, Sydney.
* Sir Richard Branson, Britain
* William Foley, United States
* Shmuel Meitar, Israel

NBR billionaires you may know:

*Graeme Hart, packager, our richest man: $6.5b
* Richard Chandler, Singapore-based investor: $4b
* Todd family, energy, investment sector: $2.7b
* Eamon Cleary, property owner: $2b
* Christopher Chandler, Richard's brother: $1.5b
* Lynne Erceg, liquor, property: $1.5b
Combined estimated total: $19.2B

Source: NBR Rich List 2011

Know any others? Email us at newsdesk@nzherald.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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