• Internal Affairs figures confirm billionaire's citizenship a one-off
• Opposition says rarity makes "can't recall" by Minister unbelievable
• Unclear spy agency ties to Thiel's Palantir prompt Ombudsman complaint

The circumstances of Trump-supporting billionaire Peter Thiel's New Zealand citizenship were so exceptional they have not been repeated, Internal Affairs figures show.

Thiel was made a Kiwi by then-Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy in June 2011 under a rarely-used "exceptional circumstances" clause of the Citizenship Act, allowing the technology investor and libertarian to sidestep requirements to have lived - and intend to live - in New Zealand.

News of his surprise citizenship broke in the Herald in January. Given the PayPal founder's contrarian high-profile backing of the ultimately successful candidacy of Donald Trump for president, the news set off a wave of international publicity about New Zealand as a preferred bolthole for the world's rich.

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Internal Affairs, following requests under the Official Information Act, provided figures to the Herald of the number of cases where a Minister had granted citizenship under the exceptional circumstances clause where prior and future residence requirements were not met.

The results appear to show Citizen Thiel is unique.

Since 2012, for which electronic records are available, Internal Affairs said 76 such applications had been filed, but in all but one year every application was rejected by the Minister.

For the one year - 2014 - where any similar cases were approved, Internal Affairs said the two approvals related to new-born babies.

Immigration lawyer Simon Laurent said had never heard of another case similar to Thiel being signed off by a Minister and the response from Internal Affairs was not surprising.

"I've never assumed that this was a wholesale thing, and it doesn't surprise me you've unearthed the one case so far," he said.

Labour Party MP and immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the figures cast the Minister Guy's claim he couldn't remember the application when first asked about the issue in a new light.

Guy, asked again about the Thiel issue, again declined to be interviewed by the Herald.

Through a spokesperson Guy repeated earlier comments "given the enormous volume of paperwork every Minister deals with" he did not recall the case.

The spokesman said Guy had since re-read the case file to refresh his memory and was satisfied with his decision.

"The decision to grant Mr Thiel citizenship was backed by officials and in my view was the right one ... I felt with his good character had the contribution he was going to make to New Zealand - and had made - that he was suitable and worthy of being a New Zealand citizen," Guy said.

Lees-Galloway said the lack of clarity - with confirmation that there were no other surprise Kiwi billionaires lurking on the world stage taking more than a month to arrive - did the government and New Zealand's reputation no favours.

"The last thing we want to do is give people the impression that our citizenship is up for sale and this affair has certainly created that," he said.

Questions and a request for interview sent by the Herald to Thiel's representatives in the United again went unanswered.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal Inc, is well known as an ally of Donald Trump. Photo / AP
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal Inc, is well known as an ally of Donald Trump. Photo / AP

Palantir ties remain murky

Government agencies and ministers have strongly rejected any suggestion that commercial ties between our spy agencies and Thiel's Palantir Technologies played any role in granting the billionaire citizenship.

But the extent and length of the relationship between the big data company part-funded by the CIA and our own Security Intelligence Service, Government Communications Security Bureau and the New Zealand Defence Force remain unclear.

The NZDF confirmed to following Official Information Act requests it had contracted from Palantir since 2012. The GCSB and SIS said they couldn't even confirm nor deny a relationship, let alone when it began. All three agencies declined to reveal how much they spent with Palantir.

The responses prompted the Herald to file complaint with the Ombudsman.

The Herald has obtained pitch materials dating from April 2012 from a headhunting firm representing Palantir seeking to recruit employees for the "founding team for their office in New Zealand".

The correspondence indicates the office ramped up its hiring through that year, and the Companies Office shows local subsidiary Palantir Technologies New Zealand was incorporated in July 2012.

Financial accounts for the local subsidiary filed on the Companies Office report annual revenues in 2014 of $2.5m, although this is not income from New Zealand government, rather a "management services" based on "costs incurred in the provision of sales and marketing services to the ultimate holding company".

However the company's presence in New Zealand appears to pre-date 2012.

A course outline for a 2009 professional-focused postgraduate course entitled "Intelligence Analysis and Interpretation" at Victoria University of Wellington featured a session involving practical Palantir use.

Course co-ordinator Professor Jim Veitch achieved a small measure of fame in 2013 by being the only submitter to appear before Parliament's intelligence committee arguing for expanded powers for New Zealand spy agencies.

Over the past fortnight Veitch, who now serves as a Presbyterian minister in Martinborough, did not return phone calls nor emails.