The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 165 (trafficking in persons) and 206 (trafficking of children) of the criminal code prohibit all forms of trafficking and prescribe penalties of five to 20 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 168 of the criminal code was amended to increase fines for forced labor offenses. Corruption in the judicial system remained an acute impediment to bringing traffickers to justice. Courts frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without explanation or on weak grounds, although comprehensive statistics on the rate of appeal were not available. Criminal cases against public officials for complicity rarely resulted in conviction, in large part due to corruption and weaknesses in the judicial system. Several government officials were investigated in 2016 for complicity in trafficking. Two police officers were indicted for sex trafficking. A village mayor was indicted for labor trafficking. Several Moldovan diplomats and the head of the foreign ministry’s consular affairs department were investigated, arrested, or indicted for extorting or accepting bribes to facilitate illegal migration. However, none of the criminal investigations of public officials initiated in 2014, 2015, or 2016 were finalized, and most remained pending in court.
Prosecutions against the head of a human rights agency for forcing children to beg in Russia and a bailiff for compelling two persons into prostitution remained ongoing. A 2014 trafficking conviction against a public official and his accomplices remained pending appeal. A court acquitted the former head of the Biathlon Federation of Moldova of child trafficking charges in 2014 and instead issued a 3,000 lei ($151) fine for organizing illegal migration; an appeal remained pending. A court still had not issued a verdict in a 2013 case against a police officer who allegedly accepted a bribe to convince his colleagues to close the investigation of a trafficking case. A case against the former head of the interior ministry’s division to combat organized crime for involvement in human trafficking remained ongoing.
There were allegations of corruption by officers assigned to the interior affairs ministry’s investigatory Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP); the Deputy Director of CCTIP and one of his trafficking investigators were arrested in February on corruption charges.
Law enforcement efforts continued to face institutional obstacles in 2016. CCTIP did not have a director from May to November 2015 and from February to November 2016. Due to the lack of effective direction, cooperation between CCTIP and some civil society actors and international partners continued to deteriorate for much of the reporting period, hampering the center’s ability to conduct complex international operations. Observers reported CCTIP focused on simpler domestic sex trafficking cases rather than complex international cases, potentially to boost the center’s statistics. This focus on statistics moved CCTIP away from its traditional strength of resource intensive victim-centered investigations. The appointment of a new CCTIP director in November 2016 led to improved working relationships with civil society and international partners and an initial shift back to investigating complex cases of international sex and labor trafficking. However, CCTIP continued to lack sufficient resources, particularly financial resources and experienced investigative staff. Reforms to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in August eliminated the use of specialized prosecutors, disbanded the specialized anti-trafficking prosecutorial unit, ended the taskforce approach to investigations, and reduced institutional knowledge regarding the use of victim-centered approaches to investigations and prosecutions. Although the PGO hired four new prosecutors in November 2016 to cover trafficking cases, observers expressed concern the reforms had weakened the office’s ability to prevent corruption and increased both the mistreatment of trafficking victims and the arbitrary dismissal of cases. Observers further noted the new unit was not dedicated only to trafficking cases, prosecutors had not received comprehensive training, and the new unit was vulnerable to corruption and political influence.
Developing investigative techniques that corroborate testimony and employing a victim-centered approach to cases are key to successful prosecutions. Prosecutors’ reliance on victim testimony can hinder successful prosecutions and result in acquittals. A February 2016 Constitutional Court decision limited the time suspects may be detained to 12 months. Because it often takes years before a final verdict is issued in trafficking cases, this ruling would allow suspected traffickers to be released before trials conclude, enabling them to flee the country or retaliate against witnesses. The National Investigative Inspectorate (INI) maintained a policy requiring CCTIP to regularly inform the INI of the suspects in CCTIP’s investigations, to include subjects of search warrants before searches are executed, which increased the risk of corrupt officers warning suspects ahead of raids or intervening in ongoing investigations.
Authorities decreased investigations in 2016, carrying out 151 trafficking cases, compared to 189 in 2015. The government decreased prosecutions, completing 33 cases in 2016, compared to 76 in 2015. The government increased convictions in 2016, convicting 56 traffickers, compared to 39 in 2015. Of the 56 convicted traffickers, 47 received prison terms, with one suspended sentence. The average jail sentence was 7.5 years for trafficking in persons and 9.5 years for trafficking in children. Moldovan authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on multiple trafficking investigations. Mostly using donor funding, the government and international organizations trained police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges in 2016. Judges and prosecutors were required to complete a 40-hour course on trafficking.