The government maintained weak law enforcement efforts. Sections 154-1 and 154-2 of its criminal law prohibit all forms of trafficking and prescribe a maximum penalty of up to 15 years imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Judges and prosecutors have the power to reclassify cases from section 154-1 to lesser crimes. Trafficking crimes could be charged under section 164, which criminalizes exploiting individuals’ vulnerability or using deceit to involve them in prostitution—a scenario very similar to sex trafficking—but prescribes punishments as lenient as community service or a fine. A 20-officer state police unit specialized in investigating trafficking, sham marriages, and related crimes.
Police investigated four new cases involving three suspects under section 154-1 in 2016, compared with three new cases involving nine suspects in 2015. The government initiated prosecutions of 11 sex trafficking suspects under section 154 1 in 2016 (eight in 2015). Courts convicted four traffickers under section 154-1; all received conditional sentences resulting in no prison time. Courts concluded a 2011 case involving a police officer charged with facilitating pimping and taking bribes; he was sentenced to four years in prison. A case from 2014 involving two Riga police officers charged with facilitating pimping remained in pre-trial investigation at the end of the reporting period.
In 2016, the specialized unit reported one new domestic labor trafficking case in which four Latvian men allegedly were coerced into working on a local farm and committing criminal acts in exchange for alcohol. This was the first domestic forced labor investigation reported in at least five years; the case remained under investigation at the end of the reporting period. Courts concluded the country’s first-ever labor trafficking case, which began in 2009; the court dropped the labor trafficking charges, convicted the defendant of facilitating sex trafficking, and sentenced her to a fine without prison time. Latvia has never convicted a criminal defendant of labor trafficking.
Authorities collaborated with several foreign governments on transnational trafficking investigations. Observers reported the need for more training for law enforcement, particularly on working with victims, evidence collection, and understanding psychological coercion. Law enforcement reportedly were inclined to investigate and charge suspected traffickers for crimes other than trafficking, such as money laundering, pimping, and transfer for sexual exploitation, rather than trafficking. Charging traffickers with these lesser crimes, particularly those often resulting in suspended sentences, permits traffickers to commit a serious crime with impunity, endangers the victims they exploited, diminishes the deterrent effect, and prevents policymakers from effectively evaluating the trafficking situation and calibrating policies and resources to fight this crime. The government collaborated with international and non-governmental partners to provide training for police, prosecutors, and judges.