The government marginally increased 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 other crimes. Prosecutors could charge trafficking crimes under Section 164, which criminalized exploiting vulnerability or using deceit to involve individuals in commercial sex, some provisions of which prescribed penalties as lenient as community service or a fine. Additionally, law enforcement officials 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 in Riga, comprising 18 officers and specializing in investigating trafficking, brokered marriages, and related crimes, investigated most trafficking cases in the country. Additionally, each of the five regional police boards employed anti- trafficking specialists. In 2021, the unit investigated three new cases (all labor trafficking), compared with seven cases (one sex trafficking and six labor trafficking) under Section 154-1 in 2020. In one investigation, police arrested five suspects for labor trafficking at three NGO-run addiction prevention centers. The NGO forced residents with addiction and mental health conditions into heavy labor in the agricultural and forestry industries without pay and under the guise of “work therapy.” The investigation found inadequate living conditions and medical care; as a result, the state closed two of the three centers, with the third still under investigation. Observers noted unlike past trafficking cases, in which law enforcement charged suspects with lesser crimes, authorities opened criminal proceedings related to organized trafficking and money laundering. Due to the rise in labor trafficking cases, the government provided guidelines for authorities to use in identifying such cases, particularly cases combining economic crime and illicit financial flows. In addition, based on a regional project to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting labor trafficking, the government conducted an examination into why authorities initiated a limited number of criminal investigations despite the growing number of labor trafficking cases every year. A specialized prosecution office reviewed, monitored, and managed all Riga District Court trafficking-related cases pertaining to Section 154-1. In the rest of the country, regional prosecution offices investigated and prosecuted trafficking cases. Authorities prosecuted four suspects (all labor trafficking) under Section 154-1, compared with two in 2020, and courts convicted one trafficker for sex trafficking, the same as in 2020. The convicted trafficker received a three-year prison sentence, whereas in 2020 the convicted trafficker received a suspended sentence with no jail time. Under Section 165-1, authorities investigated two new cases, prosecuted one suspect, and convicted four traffickers (sentences included imprisonment, suspension, reversal, and cancelation due to death). By comparison, in 2020, authorities investigated one new case, prosecuted one suspect, and convicted zero traffickers. In 2021, the anti-trafficking police unit seized approximately €329,749 ($373,870) in assets from suspected traffickers. Latvian authorities cooperated with their European counterparts on several trafficking-related investigations, judicial assistance requests, and one extradition. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.
Perennial issues within the judicial system, such as lengthy trials and lenient sentences, which often resulted in no jail time for convicted traffickers, remained the government’s greatest deficiency—providing limited deterrence, contributing to the underreporting of trafficking crimes, and undermining defendants’ rights to a fair trial within a reasonable time. For instance, the trial for a 2014 case involving two Riga police officers charged with “facilitating pimping” remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Similarly, the trial for a 2017 labor trafficking case against seven individuals remained ongoing. Adequate evidence collection remained a problem in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases; in 2021, authorities terminated five investigations due to a lack of evidence or statute of limitations. Additionally, NGOs reported police outside of Riga had limited motivation to pursue trafficking cases and difficulty identifying victims. NGOs also reported regional police began investigating trafficking-related crimes only after involving Riga’s anti-trafficking unit. Observers warned such a passive approach could lead to the re-victimization of victims. Furthermore, reports persisted that police, prosecutors, and judges retained a limited understanding of trafficking. Experts noted the need for more training for authorities, particularly on applying anti-trafficking laws, working with victims, and understanding psychological coercion. The government addressed knowledge gaps by requiring trafficking-specific training for judges and court administration officials and allocating €6,020 ($6,830) from the state budget toward it. The government supported additional educational efforts by providing training for police on the different types of trafficking and recruitment methods and front-line workers on victim identification. Experts noted, though, that a lack of interest in training among law enforcement officials often led to poor attendance at international and local seminars. To enhance law enforcement’s response to trafficking and authorities’ collaboration with other stakeholders, the government participated in a project with the Governments of Estonia and Finland to strengthen law enforcement’s knowledge of and approach to trafficking.