Australia: Gambler Jailed Seven Years for Kidnapping 12-Year-Old Boy Over AU$5.5m Debt

  • Zhang, 55, told the court he had “no other option” than to abduct the Gold Coast boy
  • The kidnapper snatched the 12-year-old boy off the street right outside his home in 2018
  • NSW police found the boy 240 miles away in a car, lashed to a headrest by his neck
  • Zhang, a former Chinese soldier, will be eligible for parole in February
Judge and gavel
A 55-year-old man from Sydney, Australia has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abducting a 12-year-old boy in order to force the youth’s father to pay a AU$5.5m debt. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Child’s father owed kidnapper money

Southport District Court in Queensland, Australia sentenced Zhen Jie Zhang, 55, to seven years in prison Tuesday for kidnapping a Gold Coast child to recover a AU$5.5m (US$4m) gambling debt from the boy’s father.

“no other option” but to kidnap the 12-year-old son of a gambling associate

Zhang, from Sydney, said he had “no other option” but to kidnap the 12-year-old son of a gambling associate in 2018, as he attempted to recoup money owed to him. Zhang told Southport District Court on November 10 through an interpreter that he had acted irrationally and said he wanted to formally apologize.

“If you feel afraid please forgive me for that; your father was acting terribly [and] owed me a substantial amount of money,” Zhang said.

Reports disclosed neither the name of the kidnapped boy nor of his father.

Snatched off the street

Zhang snatched the boy off a street right outside his house in May 2018. According to media reports, the boy was holding a tennis racket, walking home from school in Mudgeeraba, a suburban town in the City of Gold Coast, Queensland. Zhang then drove the boy across Queensland into New South Wales (NSW). Acting on information from the public, NSW police found the boy in a car 240 miles away in the city of Grafton, lashed to a headrest by his neck.

given water only twice during his 16 hours of captivity”

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News reports that during the hearing, Prosecutor Matt Hynes said the boy had a mask placed over his head and was “given water only twice during his 16 hours of captivity.”

Hynes added that the boy tried to escape on three occasions. After the first try, Zhang bound his ankles. Following the second attempt, the kidnapper placed a towel in his mouth. It was after the third attempt to escape that Zhang tied the boy’s neck to a car seat with rope.

A gambling relationship

As the story was told in court, Zhang and the boy’s father met in 2010 and subsequently gambled together. The father borrowed money from Zhang, plus he owed a considerable sum to casinos. Hynes informed the court that Zhang extorted the 12-year-old’s family over three-and-a-half months. One of the threatening texts Zhang sent read: “Watch out…wait for pick up the body”.

“Watch out…wait for pick up the body”

In a victim impact statement tendered to the court, the youth’s mother explained that her son went from being a cheerful, carefree kid to a boy who was “sad, frightened and miserable.”

Under the Australian Crimes Act 1914, a victim impact statement must describe the impact of the offense on the victim and must also include details of the harm suffered by the victim because of the offense.

Hynes added that the mother notices that when “dark cars go near the house, [her son] hides under tables.” Zhang abducted the boy in a dark blue 2013 Jeep Compass SUV.

Kidnapper’s defense

In defense of his client, barrister Alastair McDougall said Zhang had no prior criminal history and that desperation triggered his offense. McDougall said Zhang needed the money owed to him to pay his own son’s way through flight school, and to pay for his mother’s medical expenses.

“He became frustrated with the non-repayment of monies,” McDougall said.

In handing out the seven-year jail sentence, Judge Catherine McGuinness underscored the young age of the victim, adding that the crime affected him significantly and adversely. In Zhang’s defense, Judge McGuinness took into account Zhang’s crime-free past and his good character references.

She also said Zhang had already been in prison for over two-and-a-half years, while acknowledging that his inability to speak English would have left him feeling isolated in jail.

Since 2017, neighboring Philippines has recorded over 52 cases of gambling-debt-related kidnappings, mostly by Chinese nationals acting as loan sharks. Zhang, a former Chinese soldier, will be eligible for parole in February.