Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 4 News List

New Zealand PM denies passports for sale to wealthy


New Zealand passports are not for sale, Prime Minister Bill English said yesterday, after it emerged that US tech titan Peter Thiel gained citizenship in the South Pacific nation, despite not meeting official criteria.

The dispute over Thiel’s citizenship follows reports that mega-wealthy Americans are looking to the South Pacific nation as a “bolthole” should US President Donald Trump’s time in office go disastrously wrong.

The New Zealand government this week confirmed that Thiel was granted citizenship in June 2011, two months after donating NZ$1 million (US$730,000) to a Christchurch quake disaster fund.

English acknowledged Thiel did not meet the usual requirements — living at least 70 percent of the previous five years in New Zealand — but said he was granted citizenship due to exceptional circumstances.

He declined to detail the exceptional circumstances and dismissed as “ridiculous” suggestions New Zealand had sold citizenship to Thiel.

“It’s not a case of whether wealthy people can jump the queue,” English said. “It’s whether people have particular skills, particular contributions that don’t quite meet the criteria.”

The opposition Labour Party’s immigration spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the case raised questions about whether rich people were receiving special treatment.

“I don’t think that fits very well with New Zealand’s egalitarian values,” he said.

Thiel, who has reportedly retained his US citizenship, cofounded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook.

He supported Trump and is part of his transition team.

The New York Times said that after Thiel strongly supported Trump’s America-first rhetoric, adopting a “backup country” appeared a typically contrarian move by the tech investor.

“Perhaps Mr Thiel’s interest in New Zealand is indeed a way of hedging his bets on a biological catastrophe or an economic meltdown,” it said.

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