Final act of desperation

Tired of all the stressful news about the United States presidential election? Well, here is a pleasant story about a gambling-related kidnapping. Fortunately, the child was rescued and on Monday morning, the abductor was sentenced to seven years in prison.

In a short hearing in Southport District Court in Queensland, Australia, 55-year-old Zhen Jie Zhang admitted to kidnapping the 12-year-old son of an acquaintance who he said owed him an AUD$5.5 million ($4 million) gambling debt. Using an interpreter, Zhang said he was “deeply sorry.”

He also gave a semi-apology, saying: “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.”

In broad daylight

Zhang abducted the boy in May 2018 from right outside the family’s house as he walked home from school. He drove him 240km (149 miles) away to Grafton, New South Wales, where the boy was found by police the following day in the back of a car. Information from the public, including a description of the boy and vehicle, helped lead authorities to the victim.

He was treated by medical professionals for injuries “consistent with being bound.”

According to prosecutor Matt Hynes, that is exactly what happened. Initially, Zhang covered the boy’s head with a mask. And then the boy tried to escape three times. Explained Hynes:

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. The boy was only given something to drink twice in 16 hours.

The history between Zhang and the boy’s father began ten years ago, when they met and gambled together. Zhang lent the man money – apparently lots of it – and the boy’s father also owed a significant amount to casinos.

Instead of handling things like a grown-up, Zhang, anxious to be repaid, extorted the family for over three months. He event sent a text message to the boy’s dad that read: “Watch out…wait for pick up the body.”

Not much to say during sentencing

Zhang’s barrister Alastair McDougall could not put up much of a defense. All it amounted to was an attempt to persuade the judge to go easy on the punishment. He highlighted that Zhang had no criminal history and he felt desperate, needing to recover millions of dollars so he could pay for his son’s flight school and his mother’s medical bills.

Judge Katherine McGinness did take his clean history into account when deciding on the sentence, as well as positive character references. He had also already served two and a half years behind bars. She even empathized with Zhang a bit, saying that because he does not speak English, he would live a more difficult, isolated life in prison.

But of course, what Zhang did was beyond the pale. Judge McGinness noted the age of his victim, as well as the fact that the boy has been traumatized by what happened to him.

Even after all that, Zhang is eligible for parole as early as February.

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