The curious case of our newly discovered super-rich citizen, Peter Thiel, will have many New Zealanders wondering why it matters that they did not know he was here, let alone a full-fledged citizen of New Zealand.

Thiel, a billionaire investor in technology and some stranger ventures, is a celebrity of business news in the United States but scarcely known here, which may be one reason he likes it here.

Not even our Government appeared to know much about him after the Herald discovered his purchase of an estate on the shore of Lake Wanaka did not need Overseas Investment Office approval because he had been a New Zealand citizen since 2011.

The current Internal Affairs Minister, Peter Dunne, had never heard of him. The minister who had approved his application, Nathan Guy, could not remember doing so but said he had been advised he had followed his officials' advice.


The application was granted under an "exceptional circumstances" clause in the Citizenship Act, bypassing the usual requirements. Prime Minister Bill English has declared himself satisfied that Thiel had "demonstrated his commitment" to this country, making significant business investments and charitable donations since being granted permanent residence in 2006.

"I don't think there's anything suspicious here at all," the Prime Minister said, "New Zealand is a better place with Mr Thiel as a citizen."

Thiel, the son of German migrants to the United States, made his fortune in Silicon Valley as a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. His net worth has been assessed at $2.7 billion.

He is reported to have an investment firm here that has put millions into local start-ups. The profile we publish today suggests he has been an enthusiast for New Zealand since a visit to Queenstown for adventure tourism in 1993.

Former National minister Wayne Mapp, who did know him, puts him in the category of ultra-rich young tech entrepreneurs who come in a private jet to hideaways in places such as Queenstown and, once here, hire a mountain bike and commune with nature.

We may have scores of these unprepossessing young magnates coming incognito to live part of the year in our sublime scenic spots.

Thiel is not a hidden man in the US when he is a known donor to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, spoke at last year's Republican convention and was an advisor in the transition.

Trump seems an odd fit for a venture capitalist with reputedly libertarian economic views but the larger question is, why is somebody so interested in the politics of the US so quiet in his adopted country?

Citizenship is a considerable privilege, another tech tycoon of German extraction, Kim Dotcom, was granted only permanent residence at about the same time. Dotcom did set about making his presence felt and ended up taking too lively an interest in New Zealand politics.

New Zealanders might not welcome new citizens to their election debates but we do welcome those who invest in more than real estate, as Thiel reportedly has done.

We can celebrate this country's attraction to any law-abiding investor and make the most of their wish to live here for some of the year. But they should not hide from us. Strict privacy arouses curiosity and suspicion. Citizens have no need to lie low.