The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Sections 154-1 and 154-2 of Latvia’s criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and between three and 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. These penalties were 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.
The State Police’s anti-trafficking unit, comprising 19 officers, specialized in investigating trafficking, brokered marriages, and related crimes. In 2018, investigations and convictions continued a multi-year decline. Police investigated four new cases (three sex trafficking and one labor trafficking) involving eight suspects under Section 154-1, compared with seven cases involving four suspects in 2017. Authorities indicted one trafficker under Section 154-1, compared with three in 2017. Courts convicted one trafficker in 2018, compared with four in 2017. The convicted trafficker received a conditional sentence of five years, resulting in no prison time. Under Section 165-1, authorities investigated two new cases, indicted one defendant, and convicted one suspect, who did not receive a prison sentence. By comparison, in 2017, authorities investigated eight cases, indicted five defendants, and convicted six suspects. In 2018, the anti-trafficking police unit seized approximately $2.3 million in assets from suspected traffickers. The prosecutor general’s office completed three judicial assistance requests in trafficking cases from the United Kingdom and Ukraine, and the government extradited four traffickers to the United Kingdom as a result of a 2017 joint investigation on a labor trafficking case. A 2014 case involving two Riga police officers charged with facilitating pimping remained in court at the end of the reporting period.
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. Furthermore, unlike the police, neither the prosecutor general’s office nor the courts had units of prosecutors or judges specializing in trafficking or staff dedicated to trafficking issues. Consequently, prosecutors and judges possessed a limited understanding of trafficking. Experts 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 educational efforts during the reporting period by organizing a two-day training on prosecution and victim protection issues for 115 participants, including judges, prosecutors, police, and NGO representatives. Additionally, Latvia’s judicial center coordinated various courses on trafficking for prosecutors, judges, and judges’ assistants; however, only four percent of the total number of currently appointed judges registered for the training. Latvia’s municipalities also organized a nine-part training series for police, attorneys, and prosecutors on victim identification, at-risk groups, rehabilitation, and interagency cooperation, and the State Border Guard trained its border guards in victim identification.