Entrepreneur Derek Handley was granted citizenship despite being 865 days short of meeting the usual requirements to become a New Zealand citizen.
Handley, who had permanent residency, failed to reside in New Zealand long enough to be considered for citizenship. Hong Kong-born Handley, who grew up in New Zealand, was a key figure in the row over the Government job of Chief Technology Officer. It ended messily, with Handley getting a payout and a minister losing a portfolio.
Handley was granted citizenship by Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin under the exceptional circumstances and public interest provision of the Citizenship Act.
The provision was used to grant citizenship to American billionaire Peter Thiel in 2011.
Documents released by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) under the Official Information Act show that when Handley’s application was submitted to Martin on November 10, 2017, he was 865 days short of the 1350 days over five years required to be considered for citizenship under the appropriate provision.
Martin granted citizenship, in line with a recommendation from DIA, to Handley on November 29, 2017.
His original application, which contained a letter from law firm Chen Palmer outlining the case for granting citizenship under exceptional circumstance and accompanied by references from business heavyweights including Air New Zealand CEO John Luxon and Sir Ray Avery, was received by then Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne in November 2016.
The letter highlighted Handley’s strong connection to New Zealand, having been granted permanent residency at the age of four when his family moved from Hong Kong. He was schooled here and attended both Victoria University of Wellington and Massey University. The letter also detailed his entrepreneurial successes and philanthropic ventures.
Handley’s wife Maya is a Kiwi and his son Finn is also a New Zealand citizen.
Handley told the Herald on Sunday he didn’t realise his frequent travel would make him ineligible for citizenship.
“Of course, from as long ago as when I was a teenager back in the 90s, I was fully eligible, having gone to school and university here.
“However, once I started travelling too much while taking a Kiwi start-up to the world, with the full intention of returning home some day, we didn’t realise this meant I would no longer be eligible for citizenship.
He said that as he got older, it became more important for him to rectify that.
“It took many years, a lot of hard work and going down a lot of dead ends until I was finally accepted again as a citizen. It was not an easy process, nor should it be. It is a precious privilege to be a citizen of New Zealand and it is not surprising that my application was highly scrutinised.”
The debacle over Handley’s appointment as New Zealand’s chief technology officer (CTO), which resulted in the demotion of former Cabinet minister Clare Curran and a payout to Handley, cost taxpayers nearly $162,000.
Handley was given a payout of $107,500 and the rest was spent on the appointment process, according to documents released under the OIA.
Handley returned with his family to New Zealand earlier this year after his successful application for the role to find that his contract had been terminated before he’d even started.
He has moved on though, buying a house in West Auckland which the family was renovating. Finn was enrolled in a local school.
“That is where we’ll be based for the foreseeable future. Right now I am focused on settling my family back into New Zealand,” Handley said.
He has turned his attention to his other work, and a plan to study psychology at AUT, where he is an adjunct professor.
He is also still on the board of Sky TV and involved with Eat My Lunch, the Aera Foundation and the Spark Foundation.
“Now that I am on the ground here my activity and impact, I hope, will only increase,” Handley said.
“For many years now I have been extremely passionate about creating a better future for New Zealand. Both my citizenship and CTO applications spell that all out quite clearly. And this passion has not changed. I will take the time over the summer to reflect on where to focus my energies.
“I am now in New Zealand for good. I couldn’t be happier and as a New Zealander I will continue to look for ways to best contribute to our amazing country,” Handley said.
Figures compiled by the Department of Internal Affairs reveal in 2017, 30 people were granted citizenship via exceptional circumstances, with 17 applications being knocked back.
Between January 2018-June 2018, 38 applications had been approved and nine rejected.