A 55-year-old man from Sydney is spending the next seven years behind bars for kidnapping a 12-year-old boy. Zhen Jie Zhang kidnapped the child to recover a $5.5 million gambling debt.

Zhang told the Southport District Court in Queensland he had no other option but to kidnap the boy. The 12-year-old is the son of a former gambling associate of Zhang. Zhang hoped the victim’s father would pay a ransom for his child’s release.

The court heard a statement from Zhang, which came via an interpreter.

“I want to say I’m deeply sorry. If you feel afraid please forgive me for that. Your father was acting terribly and owed me a substantial amount of money. I felt I had no other option”

It became apparent the father of Zhang’s victim owes Zhang a massive gambling debt.

Owed Gambling Debt Forced Zhang’s Hand

The kidnapping took place outside the victim’s home in May 2018. CCTV captured the images of the victim as he walked down a Gold Coast street carrying a tennis racket. Zhang approached the boy as he stood outside his house. He never made it inside because Zhang bundled him into a car and drove off at speed.

Police issued an Amber Alert and set about trying to locate the kidnapped child. They used the Main Roads camera networks to get an idea of the direction Zhang was heading.

“It gave us an idea of the direction of travel over the border and then it was a matter of liaising with NSW police who set up checkpoints,” explained a Queensland Police spokesperson.

Victim Driven 240 Miles Across the Country

Zhang drove the terrified boy across Queensland and into New South Wales as part of his plan to have his gambling debt settled. NSW police discovered the boy in a car 240 miles from the abduction site. Zhang has lashed the boy to a headrest by his neck.

The boy had a bag placed over his head and only given water twice during the 16-hour ordeal.

Prosecutor Matt Hynes told the court about Zhang placing the bag on the kidnapped boy’s head. He also revealed the boy attempted to escape on three occasions.

“On the first attempt, his ankles were tied. The second a towel was placed in his mouth. The third his head was tied to a chair with the rope around his neck.”

Thankfully, the boy only suffered minor cuts and scratches which were consistent with being bound. He is, however, suffering mentally.

Hynes revealed the boy is now “sad, frightened, and miserable” instead of “happy-go-lucky”. The traumatised boy often hides under tables whenever dark cars pass by their house. Zhang kidnapped the boy in a dark SUV.

Assailant Was Desperate For Cash

The court heard Zhang and the boy’s father have known each other for 10-years. They often gambled together with the father borrowing money from Zhang. It’s claimed the boy’s father owes a considerable sum to casinos.

Zhang sent threatening messages for more than three months, including a text message saying they would need to pick up their son’s body.

Alastair McDougall was Zhang’s defence barrister. He told the court his client had no previous criminal convictions and the kidnapped was born through desperation. McDougall revealed Zhang was attempting to recover a $5.5 million gambling debt from the child’s father.

“He became frustrated with the non-repayment of monies,” McDougall said. McDougall also explained Zhang needed the owed gambling debt to pay for his mother’s medical expenses.

Judge Catherine McGuinness handed Zhang a seven-year jail sentence. The sentence of seven-years is because of the victim’s young age and how the crime has affected him.

The judge took into account Zhang’s crime-free past and good character references. Zhang has spent two-and-a-half years in prison already. Judge McGuinness acknowledged his inability to speak English would leave him isolated in jail.

Zhang, a former Chinese solider, is eligible for parole in February 2021.