A man who kidnapped a 12-year-old boy had previously made a series of chilling threats to his family. Now the full story of what happened can finally be revealed.
A man who kidnapped a 12-year-old boy had previously made a series of chilling threats to his family. Now the full story of what happened can finally be revealed.

Kidnapper’s chilling threat: ‘Pay me or wait for the body’

A 12-year-old boy tried to escape his kidnapper three times during a frightening 16-hour ordeal sparked by a $5.5 million gambling debt.

Former property developer Zhenjie (Kenny) Zhang had orchestrated the May 11, 2018 kidnapping to get the boy's father to pay back the huge debt, the Southport District Court was told on Tuesday during Zhang's sentencing hearing for extortion and kidnapping.

The 55-year-old began attempts to get $30,000 back in January 2018 by making threats, an intimidating visit to the boy's Gold Coast home and sending a number chilling texts.

"If you do not give me the money, wait for picking up the body (sic)," one text read.

In April he sent a text saying failure to repay the money would result in "unnecessary things" happening.

The threats culminated in Zhang, a former Chinese soldier, snatching the boy from a Gold Coast street, putting a mask on him and stuffing him in a car.

He then fled south and was found when a member of the public spotted his car in Grafton and alerted police.

Police found the boy after 16 hours, tied to a car seat, with a rope around his neck.

The ordeal has left the boy "frightened and miserable" and hiding under tables when dark cars go past.

 

 

Zhenjie Zhang kidnapped a 12-year-old boy to get the boy’s father to pay back a gambling debt. Picture: AAP
Zhenjie Zhang kidnapped a 12-year-old boy to get the boy’s father to pay back a gambling debt. Picture: AAP

 

 

Zhang was given an IOU by the boy's father for 29.5 million yuan, about $6 million, in 2015.

Zhang, through an interpreter, read an apology letter to the court saying he was "acting terribly" and "had no other options".

Judge Katherine McGinness sentenced him to seven years prison with parole eligibility on February 17 next year.

Crown prosecutor Matt Hynes said Zhang's demands began in January 2018 and included the text messages, showing up at a restaurant and a frightening incident in the boy's home.

He said in the weeks before the kidnapping Zhang entered the boy's home, put a hand on his shoulder and told his mother: "You remember this, your husband still owes me money."

Zhang then, weeks later, snatched the 12-year-old boy from the Gold Coast street on May 11, 2018 after demands to settle the gambling debt with the boy's father were not met.

Mr Hynes said during the 16-hour ordeal Zhang gave the boy water twice and allowed him to use the bathroom once.

"Upon making attempts to escape on three occasions he was caught," Mr Hynes said.

"On the first occasion his ankles were tied, the second a towel was placed in his mouth and, on the third, his head was tied to a chair with the rope around his neck."

When the boy was found he was still tied to the chair.

 

 

Zhenjie Zhang made multiple threats before the kidnapping. Picture: AAP.
Zhenjie Zhang made multiple threats before the kidnapping. Picture: AAP.

 

 

Mr Hynes tendered to the court photos of the boy tied up, describing them as "distressing".

"I pause to note he was not hurt and violence of any substantial nature was not threatened upon him by the defendant," he said.

Mr Hynes read a victim impact statement from the boy's mother where she says the boy went from a "happy child" to one who was "frightened and miserable".

"She observes that when dark cars go near the house, he hides under tables," he said.

Mr Hynes said Zhang, prior to the kidnapping, had been sending multiple texts to the boy's father making demands for money, including chilling texts about waiting for "a body".

On another occasion Zhang entered the boy's home, put a hand on his shoulder and told the mother: "You remember this, your husband still owes me money."

Mr Hynes told the court the boy had been keen to attend the court proceedings but could not due to exams.

Zhang, through an interpreter, read an apology letter to the court saying he had been chasing the boy's father "in vain" since 2015 to repay the debt.

"Because your father was acting terribly I feel I have no other options... so I brought you into the car without your permission," he said.

 

 

Zhenjie Zhang was sentenced to seven years prison with parole eligibility on February 17 next year. Picture: AAP.
Zhenjie Zhang was sentenced to seven years prison with parole eligibility on February 17 next year. Picture: AAP.

 

 

Zhang said he did not intend to do anything malicious to the boy and brought him drink, clothes when he was cold and allowed him to use the bathroom.

"If you feel afraid, please forgive me," Zhang said.

"I feel remorseful and I truly understand that I was acting irrationally and unwisely which led to this incident.

"This is all my fault."

Defence barrister Alistair McDougall, instructed by Dib & Associates, told the court the incident was an act of desperation.

"He was trying to recover money ... to pay for his mother's medical expenses and to put his son through flight school," he said.

"He became frustrated by the non-repayment of the moneys, in particular because of (the boy's father's) apparent wealth in China."

Mr McDougall said custody had been especially difficult for Zhang because he does not speak any English.

Zhang, who is an Australian citizen who lives in Sydney, has had two visitors since going into custody about two and a half years ago.

He has no prior criminal history.

 

 

lea.emery@news.com.au

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Kidnapper's chilling threat: 'Pay me or wait for the body'


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