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Even if he wanted to, tech billionaire Peter Thiel couldn’t escape the coronavirus and flee to his remote 193-hectare estate on the South Island of New Zealand.
Indeed, the donor and venture capitalist of President Donald Trump who – who would have made more than a billion dollars on a first bet of $ 750,000 on Facebook – has not yet built a property on the vast land he has owned for almost half a decade, according to records kept by local authorities and residents.
Thiel bought the land at Glendhu Bay in 2015 for an undisclosed price through a New Zealand-registered company called Second Star, of which he is the sole shareholder.
What can I say that he did not build a monumental bunker at the back of the plot? Well, in order to build a new residence among the hills of his estate, which sits on the shores of peaceful Wanaka Lake, Thiel would have to apply for a building permit. It has yet to do so, according to a public database of planning requests that has been analyzed by CNBC. However, not all of these should be made public.
Queenstown Lakes District Council confirmed in July 2018 that “no requests have been received from Mr. Thiel or his businesses”.
Local residents told CNBC that they had seen no activity on the plot. “I have heard nothing and nothing is obvious when you walk past or cycle past the property along the lake,” said Julian Haworth, who lives in Wanaka.
However, CNBC understands that Thiel has been in contact with at least three architectural firms in New Zealand. Companies include: Sumich Chaplin, Mason & Wales and Fearon Hay, which has studios in Auckland and Los Angeles, where Thiel also has a home. No architect responded to a request for comment.
CNBC also contacted Thiel and its representatives for this article, but has still not received a response.
Mecca of Preppers
Located on the edge of the Earth, New Zealand has become popular in recent years with so-called “preparers” – those who are trying to prepare for catastrophic events that can pose a threat to humanity. Today there are even a dedicated website to those who want to prepare their families for “survival” in New Zealand.
Last month, Bloomberg reported that the wealthy Americans are activating their pandemic plans following the coronavirus crisis, some having even moved to New Zealand.
The piece opens with a reference to a Silicon Valley technical chief who forgot how to unlock his multi-million dollar underground bunker in New Zealand, which he had never used before. Gary Lynch, general manager of bunker supplier Rising S Co, received a call in March from the mystery businessman asking how to get into the shelter and make everything work, according to the report.
Wanaka Lake and the surrounding hills.
The prepper craze was honored for the first time in January 2017, when an article from the New Yorker titled “Doomsday prep for the super-rich” revealed how New Zealand is essentially like a Mecca for wealthy preparers. It is remote, geopolitically stable and sparsely populated. Above all, he could also become completely self-sufficient in terms of water, food and energy if he needed it.
“Saying you are buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more,” said LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in the article.
A year earlier, Sam Altman, former president of the prestigious Y-Combinator accelerator program, told the same magazine that he planned to fly at Thiel’s home in New Zealand in the event of a pandemic.
It is not known which house Altman was referring to as Thiel has owned a number of properties in New Zealand over the years, albeit on much smaller plots. This includes a four-bedroom house in the neighboring Queenstown neighborhood, which he bought in 2011 for $ 4.8 million and subsequently equipped with a panic room after a fire. He also owned property in Auckland.
Thiel’s love for Aotearoa (the Maori name for the country) goes back a long way.
The serial entrepreneur, who co-founded PayPal, Palantir and a number of other companies, first visited New Zealand in 1995 at the age of 28, according to a New Zealand Herald in-depth investigation.
He is also a big fan of the trilogy of the film “The Lord of the Rings”, which is shot in New Zealand. At least five of his companies have names inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. Palantir, for example, is named after the seven vision stones in “The Lord of the Rings” that can be used to communicate with others, while his company VC Mithril Ventures is named after a metal in the fantasy series who can “protect” and be “transformative”.
Regarding preparation, Thiel said he was influenced by a book published in 1997 titled “The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Prosper During the Collapse of the Welfare State”. according to The Guardian.
“New Zealand is already a utopia,” said Thiel told Business Insider in 2011, the year he became a New Zealand citizen. In his application for citizenship, he said that he had found “no other country that is more in line with my vision of the future than New Zealand”.