NZ Herald business editor at large

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel funding Hulk Hogan in Gawker lawsuit - reports

Billionaire American technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Photo / supplied
Billionaire American technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Photo / supplied

Peter Thiel, the US tech billionaire with a passion for New Zealand, has been secretly funding former wrestling star Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against online news site Gawker, US media are reporting.

A Florida jury awarded Hogan, otherwise known as Terry Bollea, US$140 million in March over a sex tape Gawker published in 2012.

Forbes Magazine has reported that Thiel, who was an early investor in Facebook as well as New Zealand's highflying tech stock Xero, was Hogan's secret backer, citing anonymous sources close to the case.

Hulk Hogan was awarded US$140 million in March over a sex tape Gawker published in 2012. Photo / AP
Hulk Hogan was awarded US$140 million in March over a sex tape Gawker published in 2012. Photo / AP

A spokesperson for Thiel declined to comment.

The New York Times - following up the story - reported that Thiel has a long history with Gawker, which published an article in 2007 outing him as gay.

"Thiel, who is now open about his sexual orientation, once described the Gawker-owned site Valleywag as "the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda", the paper wrote.

In October 2010, the Californian invested $4 million in Xero's online accounting software through his local capital firm, Valar Ventures.

In 2012 Valar partnered with the Government's NZ Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) to create a $40 million venture capital fund aimed at getting Kiwi tech firms exporting.

Thiel put $15 million into the new fund, while NZVIF and other private investors put in $20 million and $5 million respectively.

In 1998, Thiel co-founded PayPal, an internet service which enables web users to buy goods without revealing their credit card details directly to the seller.

It was bought by internet auction site eBay for US$1.5 billion four years later, and Thiel pocketed US$55 million in the deal.

Forbes said it was unclear how Thiel became connected to Hogan, or whether Thiel, who is now estimated to be worth US$2.7 billion, is the only outside financial backer of the cases against Gawker.

Gawker is currently appealing that ruling.

- NZ Herald

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