Ardern wants Sroubek residency review fast tracked

KiwiFirewalker: Oh so now NZ wants to talk about about immigration!

There was a lot of talk about immigration in last year’s election campaign, but until the Sroubek issue came up the Government has kept fairly quiet – probably because their election promises (Labour’s and NZ First’s) seemed to have been put aside.

Its funny isn’t it that the immigration debate in New Zealand can limp along with barely any discussion on exactly how problematic the situation is for years until a Czech drug smuggler gets permanent residence then people loose their minds.

There has been some good coverage over time, such as Steve Kilgallon and Dileepa Fonseka’s excellent series of articles on Stuff about exactly how widespread migrant exploitation in NZ is and how badly our immigration system is being rorted, but I have not herd the words “migrant exploitation” or “immigration rort” in the last six months as much as I have herd the words “Czech drug-smuggler” in the last week.

Ian Lees-Galloway, as Minister of Immigration, made his decision about Karel Sroubek in one of the three following contexts:

1. Lees-Galloway (or one of his minions*) did not actually read past the cover sheet and just made their decision on the easy (but incorrect) emotion angle of the case,

2. Lees-Galloway read the file but the file the file did not have all the info so the decision was made with incomplete information, or

3. Sroubek was given residency as part of some deal with the Police, or some other agency, as part of his connection to the Hell’s Angels and drugs smuggling in NZ.

Any of the above could be true but since we are listing facts about this case then lets list a few more.

4. Immigration NZ is run like a fast food franchise with lowly paid employees, quantity over quality decision making, outsourced  and offshore functions** and a risk adverse senior management which knows the problems exist but will not face them,

5. Appeals to the Minister of Immigration only make it to their desk when ALL other avenues are closed and things are looking BAD (as in nobody wanted to approve your application), and

6. Its a total crap shoot when your case is gone to the minister for appeal, anything could happen.

In my five years at Immigration NZ I watched all sorts of cases get declined at every single other level and then go to the minister for final judgement and in some cases people that should definitely not be allowed into the country got to stay while those who had cases with the most compassionate grounds ever get rejected outright with no reason or explanation, because at that level the Ministers power is effectively absolute and there is no appeal if you loose (or in the case of those highly questionable individuals who got in: won).

That said the Minister can also make the right decision and one of the most heart wrenching cases of my career, that I was unable to approve despite it being a obvious “yes”, finally got approved later by the Minister; to my utter happiness, and relief.

A bouquet for a National Minister of Immigration:

And for the record the Minister that I, and most of my fellow Immigration officers, felt made the best decisions was Michael Woodhouse.

And a brickbat for another:

For whatever reason when it usually needed to be declined he did and when it needed an approved he approved while, in my time at least, the worst  Minister was Jonathan Coleman who we could only believe was deliberately doing the opposite of what should be done, every single time, as there seemed to be no other rational explanation for the atrocious range of appalling decisions he made…

It’s not the party that matters, it’s the personality of the Minister.

So the real questions in these circumstances is not “why did the minister approve Sroubek” but how can Peter Thiel get the red carpet treatment but Karel Sroubek cannot?

Two of the most controversial residents.

Yet the likely outcome is Sroubek will go while Theil and Yang get to stay because apparently Kiwis can only get outraged about immigration issues when its drugs and not abuses by the wealthy,  obvious cases of espionage, migrant exploitation or marriage-for-residency scams which makes this less a genuine issue and more the most recent round of “wont someone think of the children!”.

So lets not turn the issue into another round of political point scoring or as an obvious distraction from a genuine high crime, like National selling slots in their party to the highest foreign bidder, but instead say “yes” to kicking Sroubek out but lets also get rid of that billionaire guy who got citizenship only because he’s filthy rich and that lying intelligence operative for a hostile power who is also, mysteriously, a sitting MP.

If Sroubek goes so should Thiel, Yang and all those other “economic citizens” who will have the dollars to buy a seat in Parliament because its just not right.

Good discussion points, but apart from Sroubek I doubt there will be any change for Thiel and Yang.

 

NZDF spending on Thiel’s Palantir

Another dogged investigation by Matt Nippert:

The New Zealand Defence Force has spent millions on controversial spy software produced by secretive Silicon Valley firm Palantir.

After refusing for more than a year to reveal the extent of links to Peter Thiel’s big data analysis company, prompting a complaint by the Herald on Sunday to the Ombudsman, the NZDF were forced to disclose annual spending with Palantir averaged $1.2 million.

The figures suggest since contracts were first signed in 2012 the defence force has spent $7.2m with the firm.

Thiel’s New Zealand citizenship has been controversial given how little time he has spent here.

Nippert on Citizen Thiel

For your consideration: 6000 words on how Peter Thiel courted, then ghosted, New Zealand. Feat: ex-Minister raising prospect of political pressure, driving convictions, a panic room, and the first (brief) comment from the man himself.

I’m also opening up most of my documentcloud folder on the case, a collection of OIA replies from Internal Affairs, Immigration NZ and the NZVIF.

https://www.documentcloud.org/public/search/projectid:31337-Citizen-Thiel

And, please take time to watch the videos of interview with Dunne and Drury: They’re really good and the pair are key voices in this saga.

Also, if you actually get to the end of the story, please let me know. what you think I spent a year on-and-off reporting it, and it’s the longest thing I’ve ever written. My nervous anxiety is that of an intern awaiting their first byline.

Thiel appeal or squeal

The Government has defended it’s decision to grant Peter Thiel New Zealand citizenship saying he is a great ambassador for new Zealand, while others have slammed it, saying citizenship should not be able to be bought.

It was revealed yesterday that Thiel had spent just 12 days in New Zealand before being granted citizenship.

The Thiel issue seemed to become more prominent when his support of Donald Trump was publicised here.

It was revealed that Thiel was a New Zealand citizen in January of this year.

Stuff: Peter Thiel a ‘great ambassador’ for NZ

The minister who gave US billionaire Peter Thiel citizenship says he’s been a “great ambassador” for the country ever since – despite the fact Thiel kept it secret for six years.

The 12 days in the five years were spread over four trips.

What I find curious is why Thiel would seek citizenship here. Did he make the first approach or was he encouraged to apply?

The PayPal co-founder and Trump backer has never lived in New Zealand long-term and made clear in his application he didn’t plan to any time soon.

Thiel’s citizenship appealed to the Minister of Internal Affairs when the citizenship was granted, Nathan Guy, who…

…gave Thiel a special grant in the “public interest”.

Guy said he stood by his decision in 2011.

“This guy has made a significant investment here in New Zealand. If you think back to 2011, at the time we were coming through a GFC, we were rebuilding Christchurch, and this individual had stepped up and said ‘yes I want to be a part of the rebuild,'” Guy said.

“He’s a great ambassador and salesperson for New Zealand.

Thiel’s application noted his considerable investments in New Zealand technology companies such as Xero and Pacific Fibre. There was also discussion of a $1 million donation to the Canterbury rebuild.

The exact amount of time that Thiel spent in New Zealand before gaining citizenship was redacted by the Department of Internal Affairs when they released documents relating to the application as they ruled it would infringe on his privacy.

There is a provision for a shorter period of presence in the law, where a resident only has to spend 450 days in a 20 month period before applying – but Thiel only spent nine days in New Zealand during that period.

“He’s promoting New Zealand all the time, to people in the US, it’s a very important market.”

Guy had signed 833 special citizenship grants in his time as internal affairs minister, but he couldn’t recall whether any other citizens had been granted citizenship after so little time in the country.

“I back the decision in 2011, I back the decision now.”

Prime Minister Bill English…

…said Thiel had been committed to New Zealand and he was happy with the contribution he had made to the country.

English has defended the Government’s decision to grant him citizenship, saying Thiel had “demonstrated his commitment to New Zealand” over the last 11 years after becoming a resident in 2006.

“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 is generally appropriate for that person to become a citizen.”

Asked if Thiel had “bought” the citizenship, English said “it’s just someone who is able to contribute, that includes investment, and we are happy with the result of that.

But there’s been sqealing as well.

Labour leader Andrew Little…

…said the government needed to explain why they gave him the citizenship.

“It doesn’t look like exceptional circumstances. It looks pretty dodgy,” he said.

Labour immigration spokesperson Iain Lee-Galloway…

…said it was clear that Thiel wanted citizenship in New Zealand so he could have a “bolthole” in the South Pacific.

“It’s extraordinarily unusual, it goes way beyond exceptional circumstances,” he said.

It does seem an odd case of citizenship granted, but has any harm been done by this?

How much has it benefited New Zealand?

Is all the publicity good transparency?

Will the publicity affect what Thiel has to do with New Zealand from now on?

Will that change if the Government changes in September?

If Thiel visits new Zealand will media harass him?

Citizen Thiel links to NZ spying and security

The historic granting of New Zealand citizenship to Trump supporter Peter Thiel made the headlines recently. Thiel’s connections to New Zealand seem to be more than citizenship and property ownership though.

NZ Herald: Billionaire Peter Thiel’s secret Kiwi spy links revealed

New Zealand spy agencies and our elite Special Air Service soldiers have long-standing commercial links with a controversial big-data company founded by surprise Kiwi Peter Thiel, the Herald can reveal.

An investigation into Thiel’s links to New Zealand has found his firm Palantir Technologies has counted the New Zealand Defence Force, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau as clients with contracts dating back to at least 2012.

The connections between Palantir – controversial in the United States over its long links with National Security Agency surveillance operations and Thiel’s backing of President Donald Trump – and the New Zealand government has long been shrouded in secrecy.

Journalism isn’t dead yet (Matt Nippert wrote the article).

The revelation caused Kennedy Graham, Green Party spokesman for intelligence and security matters, to call for a delay to the passage of the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill, which today passed its second and penultimate reading.

The article is currently time stamped 8:48 pm last night – when did Graham here the ‘recvelation’?

Graham said the New Zealand-Palantir connection was “potentially huge” and raised more questions than it answered.

“The Parliament should not be too hasty until these things properly come to light,” he said.

Some of the Palantir story has been known for some time.

This mystery is undercut by official publications by the agencies themselves over the past few years disclosing its use. A recently-advertised job description for the SIS said a key performance measurement would be that “appropriate user champions are identified within teams and provided with support to develop the Palantir skills of their team.”

Jobs advertised in Wellington by Palantir itself warn successful applicants “must be willing and able to obtain a Government security clearance in New Zealand”. The company has been a regular fixture at university careers fairs since 2013.

And a brief item in the military magazine Army News in 2012 stated a trial of the company’s software was being piloted, but this wasn’t the first time it had been deployed in New Zealand.

“Palantir intelligence software is in use with a number of our domestic and foreign partners,” Army News said.

I’ve heard the company (and Thiel’s association) coming up in past coverage of GCSB and legislation issues.

The company became controversial in the United States over its close working relationship with the NSA in building programs designed to draw together disparate datasets – many obtained from widespread surveillance.

“Palantir’s technology is dual-purpose,” says Intercept security director Morgan Marquis-Boire, who noted it was put to some controversial uses – including recent news it was assisting the identification of undocumented migrants for deportation action by United States authorities.

“They’re sometimes the front-end search box for that great dragnet in the sky,” he said.

Morgan said the adoption of Palantir by New Zealand agencies was not surprising given the long-standing intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. “I can’t say I’m surprised, given Five Eyes,” he said.

So is it an issue, or does it just make a good story?

The influence of Thiel – who was revealed by the Herald to have been awarded New Zealand citizenship under exceptional circumstance provision by the then-Minister of Internal Affairs in 2011 – on Palantir is obvious.

The renewed interest in Thiel and Palantir seems to due to Thiel’s close connections to Donald Trump. If it wasn’t for that I doubt it would have been given much if any attention.

How political is the Thiel attention?

The uber attention over Peter Thiel’s citizenship continued unabated today. How political is it?

Thiel was granted New Zealand residency in 2006 under the Clark government, and was then granted citizenship in 2011 under a National government.

It’s no surprise to me that a rich person willing to invest in New Zealand was granted citizenship, I thought this was one of the aims of our immigration policy.

So what’s the issue? Thiel hasn’t done anything wrong as far as I’m aware.

Except perhaps some see wrong in his support of Donald Trump. Is that why he is getting this much attention?  If Thiel hadn’t had any connections to trump will anyone have cared?

If he had donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign would there be the same level of jumping up and down in angst over…over what exactly?

If New Zealand seeks and encourages rich investors to immigrate and to get citizenship it’s not good at all if some individuals who do get involved here and invest significantly if they are then are given a massive going over by media and by opposition politicians.

Unless there’s actually been something demonstrably wrong about what has happened this all seems quite petty.

We the public should see some transparency over our policy of granting citizenship in general terms.

But getting on a bash wagon over individuals who have been legitimately granted citizenship and have done nothing wrong is very poor form.

Of particular concern is discrimination on political grounds, if that’s what is happening.

Citizen Thiel

Peter Thiel, billionaire and Trump supporter and donater, has been a New Zealand citizen since 2011. This came to light because it was reported yesterday he had bought a property near Wanaka (at Glendhu Bay) and didn’t require approval due to being a citizen. He already owns a property in Queenstown.

NZ Herald: Tech billionaire Peter Thiel a New Zealand citizen since 2011

Controversial tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been a citizen since 2011.

Beyond confirming the date citizenship was approved on March 30, 2011 – dating to a period when Nathan Guy was the Minister responsible – department spokesman Steve Corbett declined to answer any further questions and said they would be treated as Official Information Act requests.

The surprising news of Thiel’s Kiwi citizenship, first broken by the Herald yesterday, drew international attention with the New York Times, Mashable,Gizmodo and the Daily Mail noting the development.

So how did he become a citizen?

According to the Department of Internal Affairs website, citizenship requires people to have lived in New Zealand for most of the past five years, or have been born in New Zealand, or have New Zealand parents.

Filings to the Companies Office, requiring directors to provide their residential address, have Thiel only list United States addresses. Thiel is widely reported to have been born in Frankfurt, Germany, to German parents who emigrated to the United States when he was an infant.

Or:

An alternate path to the above requires the Minister of Immigration to personally sign off and agree that granting the individual citizenship “would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature”.

Thiel’s ties to New Zealand are mainly financial, having invested around $50 million over the last decade in accountancy software company Xero and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

Not surprisingly this has raised eyebrows and interest.

It also raises questions about who else has and how many others have been granted citizenship on “exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant”.

Meanwhile in the New Yorker: DOOMSDAY PREP FOR THE SUPER-RICH

How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. (“Anonymity is priceless,” one hedge-fund manager told me, declining an interview.) Sometimes the topic emerges in unexpected ways.

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

In the first ten months of 2016, foreigners bought nearly fourteen hundred square miles of land in New Zealand, more than quadruple what they bought in the same period the previous year, according to the government. American buyers were second only to Australians.

The U.S. government does not keep a tally of Americans who own second or third homes overseas. Much as Switzerland once drew Americans with the promise of secrecy, and Uruguay tempted them with private banks, New Zealand offers security and distance.

Certainly we are remote from the likelihood of war, and our terrorism risk is relatively low, but there is a bit of a potential issue with earthquakes and volcanoes.

Jack Matthews, an American who is the chairman of MediaWorks, a large New Zealand broadcaster, told me, “I think, in the back of people’s minds, frankly, is that, if the world really goes to shit, New Zealand is a First World country, completely self-sufficient, if necessary—energy, water, food. Life would deteriorate, but it would not collapse.”

As someone who views American politics from a distance, he said, “The difference between New Zealand and the U.S., to a large extent, is that people who disagree with each other can still talk to each other about it here. It’s a tiny little place, and there’s no anonymity. People have to actually have a degree of civility.”

Apart from on a few wee blogs and between the odd visitor to Ratana then civility in politics is probably the norm, if people bother to talk about it at all.

In global rankings, New Zealand is in the top ten for democracy, clean government, and security. (Its last encounter with terrorism was in 1985, when French spies bombed a Greenpeace ship.) In a recent World Bank report, New Zealand had supplanted Singapore as the best country in the world to do business.

There are certainly quite a few positives here.  But do we want to be flooded with doomsday preppers?

New Zealand’s reputation for attracting doomsayers is so well known in the hedge-fund manager’s circle that he prefers to differentiate himself from earlier arrivals. He said, “This is no longer about a handful of freaks worried about the world ending.” He laughed, and added, “Unless I’m one of those freaks.”

Move to the ends of Earth to distance yourself from the world ending.

The Press asks in an editorial: Is New Zealand citizenship for sale?

That would be an outrageous and cynical undercutting of New Zealand’s egalitarian values.

What qualifies as exceptional circumstances and how often is that ministerial right exercised?

Asking such questions is not to say Thiel is undeserving of New Zealand citizenship. He may have qualified under the 1350 day rule or he may well be an exceptional humanitarian.

But we just don’t know. The irony is that New Zealand is attractive to billionaires because it is a safe, stable democracy with an enviable reputation for being corruption-free and transparent.

It is time to apply that same transparency to the ways our Government rolls out the red carpet for those billionaires.