Peter Thiel, the German, United States and, since 2011, New Zealand citizen, is applauded by the minister who cleared his pathway to citizenship as a "great ambassador and salesperson" for New Zealand.

On the face of it, Thiel's skills in this area are hard to evaluate, partly because he never made it public that he had been granted citizenship. Thiel is a wealthy entrepreneur and politically connected to Donald Trump's White House. It is not evident that he has used this connection to sell New Zealand.

Indeed, Thiel has not commented about his citizenship since the surprising news surfaced in January. On the sales front then, Thiel has been quiet.

His status emerged only when a Herald journalist inquiring about a Wanaka land purchase discovered Thiel was exempt from foreign ownership rules because of his citizenship, bestowed at a private ceremony in Santa Monica in August 2011.


Ever since the January revelation, more details about the circumstances leading to Thiel's New Zealand legal status have filtered out. It took the intervention of the Ombudsman to ensure some material became public.

One point which stands out is the fact that Thiel had spent a total of 12 days in the country before the minister, Nathan Guy, used his authority to approve the application under an "exceptional circumstances" clause in the legislation.

Guy said he gave Thiel the green light because of his local investments and philanthropy, which included giving $1 million to the reconstruction of Christchurch.

The lesson from this saga - and indeed from other cases when ministers have granted citizenship - is the need for transparency.

Citizenship is something to be treasured, not bestowed in secret. New Zealanders have the right to know who is being granted this gift, from the moment it is made.