Australian kidnapped friend's son to extort gambling debts

Jon Pill
Posted on: November 13, 2020 06:00 PST

Firstly, the kid is okay. To the extent that any kidnapped kid is going to be okay. He is alive, back with his parents, and barring the emotional trauma, not subject to any permanent hurt.

The perp was caught, has been in jail for two and a half years while the courts play this out, and he will be spending up to another four and a half years in a Queensland prison.

You can relax as you read on. So, how did this happen?

Enter Mr. Zhang

In May 2018, the boy was 12 and walking home from Somerset College in Mudgeeraba, Queensland. As he did so, 55-year-old Zhen Jie Zhang pulled him off the road and into his car.

After sixteen hours of imprisonment, the boy was found in the back of a car 240 km (150 miles) away in Grafton. The boy was treated for scratches that the police described as being "consistent with being bound."

Zhang was a friend of the boy's father after the two of them had started gambling together in 2010.

Three times the kid tried to escape. By the third attempt, Zhang trussed him up on a chair with a towel in his mouth, a mask over his face, and a loop of rope about his neck. Zhang gave him water just twice during his 16-hour ordeal.

The story has definite shades of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance about it then. But repeated as farce.

In court, Zhang — who does not speak English — apologized via a translator. He said to the boy, "If you feel afraid please forgive me for that. Your father was acting terribly. He owed me a substantial amount of money. I felt I had no other option."


The story really began three and a half months before the kidnapping. By that point the boy's father had borrowed AU$5.5 million from Zhang. The father also owed several casinos similar sums. Zhang was struggling to get his money back.

First, he sent threats, including warning the father by text to "wait for pick up the body." His extortion escalated until, eventually, he tried taking the boy.

The defense did not argue for innocence. Instead, they asked the court to take into account that Zhang was acting from desperation and had no prior criminal record. The court also recognized that because Zhang did not speak English, his prison sentence would be especially hard.

Judge Katherine McGinness made allowances for mitigating factors. But the kid's tender age and trauma made it impossible to go light on the sentencing. Judge McGinness still gave him seven years.

With time served, he will be eligible to apply for parole in a matter of months.

Featured image source: Flickr