Peter Thiel's 12 days in New Zealand earns citizenship

Even by the quirky standards of billionaires, Peter Thiel marches to the beat of his own drummer.

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal, is one of the few tech moguls to back President Donald Trump, and he funded wrestler Hulk Hogan's libel suit against Gawker Media, which led to its bankruptcy and subsequent sale. His foundation runs a contest for young people "under 23 and working on a cool project or company," with the winner getting a two-year $100,000 fellowship. 

Now, the 49-year-old entrepreneur has raised eyebrows yet again by obtaining New Zealand citizenship -- even though he spent only 12 days in the country.

New Zealand officials were unable to explain why they decided in January to divulge Thiel's citizenship, six years after it happened. Revelations about the time Thiel has spent in New Zealand were uncovered in press reports yesterday. 

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Nathan Guy, who was Immigration Minister in 2011 when Thiel became a citizen, argued that the entrepreneur was a "great ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand" without explaining what he meant. A spokesman for the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, D.C., had no immediate comment.

It's not clear what prompted Thiel to seek New Zealand citizenship. The move doesn't necessarily indicate that Thiel, who was born in Germany, has renounced his U.S. citizenship. According to the State Department, the U.S. government recognizes dual nationality but doesn't encourage it because it can cause problems.

"Claims of other countries on dual nationality U.S. nationals may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist nationals abroad," the State Department website says. "The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance."

A spokeswoman for Thiel didn't respond to a request for comment. New Zealand, which has a population of less than 5 million, is proving to be a draw for many U.S. citizens. According to media reports, applications from Americans seeking New Zealand citizenship soared 70 percent in the three months after Mr. Trump's election compared with same period a year earlier.   

Foreign buyers are also snapping up New Zealand property, buying nearly 1,400-square miles of land in the first 10 months of 2016, more than quadruple what they acquired in 2015. Americans were the second-largest buyers behind Australians, fueled by demand by wealthy "doomsday preppers" who fear a collapse in the U.S.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.