The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Sections 154-1 and 154-2 of Latvia’s criminal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed a maximum penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment, which was sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Judges and prosecutors had the power to reclassify cases from section 154-1 to lesser crimes. Trafficking crimes could be charged under section 164, which criminalized exploiting vulnerability or using deceit to involve individuals in prostitution with prescribed penalties as lenient as community service or a fine. Additionally, law enforcement reportedly were more likely to investigate and charge suspected traffickers for crimes other than trafficking, such as pimping and transfer for sexual exploitation. Authorities used section 165-1, which prohibited the transfer of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation, to prevent potential cases of trafficking by charging perpetrators who attempted to recruit individuals for sexual exploitation schemes abroad.
A 19-officer State Police unit specialized in investigating trafficking, sham marriages, and related crimes. Police investigated seven new cases involving four suspects under section 154-1 in 2017, compared with four cases involving three suspects in 2016. Authorities initiated prosecutions of three traffickers under section 154-1, compared with 11 in 2016. Courts convicted four traffickers in 2017, compared with four in 2016. Three of the convicted traffickers received conditional sentences resulting in no prison time, and one trafficker received a fine. Under section 165-1, authorities investigated eight new cases, prosecuted five defendants, and convicted six suspects during the reporting period; none of the convicted offenders received prison sentences. By comparison, in 2016 authorities investigated 10 cases, prosecuted four defendants, and convicted 10 suspects. A case from 2014 involving two Riga police officers charged with facilitating pimping remained in court at the end of the reporting period. In 2016, the specialized unit reported the first domestic forced labor investigation in at least six years in which 22 Latvian nationals were coerced into working on a local farm and committing criminal acts in exchange for alcohol and debt forgiveness, likely cases of debt bondage. In this case, two suspects were charged with trafficking; the case remained in court at the end of the reporting period. In 2017, police from Latvia and the United Kingdom cooperated on a labor trafficking case involving 12 suspected traffickers—all Latvian nationals who recruited victims in Latvia and exploited them in the United Kingdom. Latvian authorities started the process to extradite four suspects for further prosecution and trial in the United Kingdom.
Perennial issues within the judicial system, such as lengthy trials and lenient sentences, which often resulted in no jail time for convicted traffickers, limited Latvia’s prosecution efforts. Observers reported the need for more training for judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement, particularly on applying anti-trafficking laws, working with victims, evidence collection, and understanding psychological coercion. The government supported such training during the reporting period by partnering with an international organization and an NGO to train more than 400 government employees (social workers, law enforcement, and local government staff) on victim identification and referral mechanisms. Additionally, Latvia’s judicial center organized a training for prosecutors, judges, and judges’ assistants on trafficking involving minors. The police collaborated with international and non-governmental partners to provide training for law enforcement officials, and the State Border Guard trained 25 border guards in victim identification.