Peter Thiel isn't the first to get on the fast track to an NZ passport.

Call off the political dogs. US tech billionaire Peter Thiel got his New Zealand citizenship fair and square, under what is a legal exception to the rules.

Sure, Thiel has effectively bought his citizenship via an investment route and in the process set up a nifty New Zealand bolthole.

But he also fell in love with this country years ago.

Thiel was able to mount a case that making him a citizen would benefit New Zealand. That got the political nod from Cabinet Minister Nathan Guy.


What sticks in the craws of the excitable posse hard on Thiel's case is this: He backs Donald Trump. He's not PC.

He underwrote litigation against Gawker Media, which ended up bankrupting the company.

He's also the co-founder and major investor in Palantir, a US data company now heading towards an IPO which just happens to have developed technology for screening populations and more, and does plenty of work for the CIA.

There's plenty more as well, to outrage politicians like Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway who have attacked Thiel's citizenship.

Lees-Galloway should turn the mirror back on his own party. It was under the previous Labour Government that Thiel gained permanent residency; the first step to fast-tracked citizenship.

And it was Labour, after all, which granted "Citizen Yan" his New Zealand citizenship on 2008, buying the notion that he was an economic fugitive from China.

Yet years on William Yan, also known as Bill Liu, made a $43 million settlement following a long money laundering inquiry to square off the NZ and Chinese governments.

Then there were the political donations. Say no more.


The point is that there have been dubious grantings of NZ citizenship. Thiel is not among them.

Sure, he is not vanilla. But he is backing NZ ventures and providing valuable connections to help the likes of Xero's Rod Drury raise capital in the US and expand offshore.

Prime Minister Bill English has explained the usefulness of being able to make an exception to the citizenship rules.

"There's 200 to 300 cases a year where they don't quite fit the criteria or there's some overriding public interest and the Minister acts on the advice of officials as to whether it generally is appropriate for that person to become a citizen," English said.

Some cases, which the Citizenship Office acknowledges, involve sportsmen and women who want to scoop up citizenship so they can compete for this country.

Then there is the exception which paved the way for Treasury Secretary Gabriel (Gabs) Makhlouf to get his own citizenship outside the usual criteria and with it a valuable New Zealand passport.

In early 2011, I broke the story of how the nation's spymaster had had to declare NZ citizenship wasn't necessary in Makhlouf's case for him to be acting Treasury Secretary while the State Services Commission continued to hunt for the right candidate for the top job.

SIS chief Warren Tucker reviewed the security criteria for the role and the job description was changed.

The former British public servant had come to New Zealand the previous year to be deputy Treasury Secretary.

As it turned out, Makhlouf did get the top job. In March 2012 he revealed he had New Zealand citizenship.

Again, an exception was made because it was considered in NZ's interests.

Thiel has gone a lot further than some, high-net worth foreign investors who have simply tossed chump change into government bonds as the first step towards securing a New Zealand bolthole.

He set-up Valar Ventures, putting $15 million into a venture capital fund to back NZ tech ventures.

Xero gained international credibility as it prepared to go global.

More recently, Thiel invested in Pacific Fibre, which aimed to build stronger undersea cables between New Zealand and the rest of the world; the kind of cables which could result in the creation of a valuable data centre industry here.

Along the way he donated $1m to a Canterbury Earthquake Appeal, a step which the private sector-led fundraisers were able to leverage to obtain more donations from the US.

It can't hurt either that NZ has another Kiwi close to the White House who actively promotes this country.

In truth, anyone who believes NZ citizenship is not "up for sale" hasn't paid much attention to the evolution of the Investor Plus scheme under successive governments. Nor to the competition among nations to offer fast-track "economic citizenship".

There are many international advisory firms specialising in this business.

In some Caribbean countries, buying citizenship is a simple, and naked, transaction.

In Austria, the cost of obtaining citizenship can approach US$10m, by investing substantially in an "officially approved manner".

The rarely granted procedure is limited to special circumstances, or to special people such as famous artists, musicians, sports figures and the like, says

This website goes on to publicise the fact that a "fast track" to citizenship also exists in New Zealand.

"While not advertised as an economic citizenship, it is nonetheless economic in principle for high-net-worth investors under the Investor Visa or Investor Plus Visa categories. Either case, the investor programs fast track citizenship significantly," it said.

The fact is, as former Prime Minister John Key pointed out last year, many high-networthers want to come to New Zealand.

If this can help this country be more diverse, exciting and grow new industries - what's to scoff at?