The government increased law enforcement efforts. Articles 210 and 211 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three to 10 years’ imprisonment for crimes involving an adult victim and five to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2021, the government enacted amendments to the criminal code that criminalized the acts of becoming aware of certain forms of trafficking and not immediately notifying the authorities. The amendments also eliminated the statute of limitations for trafficking crimes, thereby providing authorities with additional time to investigate and prosecute such crimes; previous amendments to the criminal code inadvertently shortened the statute of limitations for all child trafficking crimes committed and impeded authorities’ ability to prosecute cases. The new amendments addressed direct concerns from the Council of Europe and civil society that the length of court proceedings, often due to delays, were deliberate attempts by corrupt officials to reach the statute of limitations, which in some cases led to impunity for traffickers.
The Organized Crime and Terrorism Investigation Directorate (DIICOT) and the Department for Combating Organized Crime (DCCO) were responsible for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. In 2021, DIICOT established a dedicated anti-trafficking unit with seven prosecutors for prosecuting trafficking crimes and providing training and support to prosecutors in DIICOT’s regional offices. With the addition of the unit, both DIICOT and DCCO operated dedicated teams of anti-trafficking police officers and prosecutors. DIICOT prosecutors reported the need for legislative amendments to deconflict elements of the criminal code. Currently, the authority to investigate “trafficking in persons, trafficking in minors, and pimping committed by organized crime groups” remained with DIICOT, while other prosecutors were responsible for “regular pimping,” “pimping through use of coercion,” and “the exploitation of minors in forced begging and theft.” These often overlapping elements of the criminal code and insufficient coordination in the prosecution service led to duplication of efforts, confusion, and subsequent inefficiency in the disposal of cases. Civil society experts agreed and advocated for a change, noting the overlap between the definitions led to some trafficking investigations being moved to a different department within the police, which did not maintain such expertise, and to more lenient penalties for perpetrators. During the reporting period, DIICOT and DCCO reported pandemic-related restrictions and COVID-19 infections among police and prosecutors constrained their ability to advance investigations in a timely manner. Nonetheless, in 2021, authorities opened 628 new trafficking cases (571 sex trafficking, 35 labor trafficking, 22 unspecified), an increase from 552 in 2020. Authorities prosecuted 522 suspected traffickers (506 sex trafficking, six labor trafficking, 10 unspecified), a significant increase from 234 in 2020. Courts convicted 162 traffickers (127 sex trafficking, 35 labor trafficking), an increase from 142 in 2020. The majority of convicted traffickers received sentences ranging from three to 12 years’ imprisonment. However, 39 convicted traffickers (24 percent) received sentences of less than three years’ imprisonment, which did not meet the minimum prescribed penalty under Articles 210 and 211, and 30 convicted traffickers (19 percent) received suspended sentences. Such lenient sentences issued to convicted traffickers weakened deterrence, did not adequately reflect the nature of the crime, and undercut broader efforts to fight trafficking. In 2021, DIICOT and DCCO participated in 20 joint investigative teams with European counterparts (35 in 2020). In one case, authorities from Romania and Northern Ireland cooperated on a sex trafficking investigation involving more than 20 Romanian women forced into commercial sex in Belgium, Germany, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK), which resulted in authorities prosecuting 11 suspected traffickers. In another case, known as Operation Bear, Romanian, Scottish, and EUROPOL authorities cooperated on a sex trafficking investigation involving an organized crime group operating in Scotland, England, and Romania. The investigation resulted in the arrest of 27 Romanian nationals, who faced prosecution in Romania, and the identification of more than 30 trafficking victims across Europe.
Persistent, low-level official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern, undermining law enforcement action. Government efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict allegedly complicit officials remained inadequate. In 2021, authorities prosecuted a member of the gendarmerie for alleged sex trafficking crimes involving four child victims. Additionally, courts issued a three-year suspended sentence against a former chief of police, who, according to media reports, ignored criminal complaints submitted by families of child trafficking victims and attempted to reconcile the victims with traffickers. Separately, the United Nations reported that an investigation into allegations of sex trafficking by a Romanian peacekeeper, originally reported in 2017, remained ongoing. Several NGOs continued to express suspicion that staff working in government-run institutions for children and residential centers for persons with disabilities facilitated trafficking. Experts reported Child Protection Services (CPS) employees who oversaw children in government-run institutions not only did not proactively try to prevent trafficking but sometimes encouraged girls to become involved in sex trafficking or knowingly tolerated the exploitation of child trafficking victims. NGOs noted in certain counties’ CPS officials acted as accomplices to traffickers. The government did not report investigating such allegations. Experts stated the government did not adequately discipline child welfare officials who abused children in their care and lacked expertise among police to proactively identify trafficking victims. In the previous reporting period, the General Police Inspectorate and the National Authority for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Children and Adoption (ANDPDCA) established an identification and referral mechanism for trafficking cases among children in government-run institutions. Additionally, to address the significant number of child sexual abuse cases, including potential child sex trafficking cases, the police maintained a unit dedicated to investigating such crimes.
Deficiencies within law enforcement, such as staffing shortages and unsustainable workloads, as well as knowledge gaps, continued to limit progress despite positive developments. According to NGOs, in trafficking cases involving foreign migrant victims, law enforcement did not effectively implement the law. Law enforcement often charged suspected traffickers for crimes other than trafficking, such as pandering, to avoid lengthy, expensive, and time-consuming investigations. DIICOT and DCCO continued to operate with limited staff and resources. DIICOT reported investigators and prosecutors avoided specializing in trafficking because of the complexity of the crime and the trauma and burnout associated with handling trafficking cases. As a result, overextended investigators and prosecutors handled multiple cases simultaneously, which resulted in difficulty building strong cases for prosecution within the six month period allowed for a suspect to be held in pre-trial detention. DIICOT also reported one specialized anti- trafficking prosecutor and investigator regularly covered regions with approximately one million residents and concurrently oversaw 100 investigations. To help address staffing shortages, in 2021, DIICOT added 11 new positions. Furthermore, NGOs noted the government employed a limited number of dedicated financial investigators—eight covering the entire country—which restricted financial investigations and asset seizures, inhibiting evidence collection in trafficking cases to corroborate witness testimony. In 2021, the government submitted a request to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to hire 42 financial investigators nationwide; the request remained pending at the end of the reporting period. To assist in financial investigations, the government passed an executive order in August 2021 allowing prosecutors access to the country’s internal revenue service database to investigate the bank accounts of criminal suspects. The government also adopted a national strategy in August 2021 on the recovery of criminal assets to operationalize a national fund that would confiscate assets to provide compensation and protection to victims. In 2021, prosecutors in DIICOT’s specialized anti-trafficking unit confiscated approximately 213,000 Romanian lei (RON) ($48,840) in assets. Reports indicated the shift to online recruitment of victims remained a serious problem, which the government addressed by allocating 13 million RON ($2.98 million) in 2021 to equip the police with a computer forensics system for detecting online sex trafficking and performing faster and more effective online investigations. NGOs reported, while law enforcement authorities developed some sensitivity to trafficking victims’ situations, some police officers and judges continued to lack specialized training and a basic understanding of trafficking crimes and victim trauma. Judges agreed with the need for training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges, specifically on trauma-informed, victim-centered interviewing. The government, in partnership with other governments, NGOs and international organizations, addressed knowledge gaps by training investigators, prosecutors, judges, labor inspectors, and other front-line workers throughout the year on various topics, such as trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to investigations, trafficking indicators, and the country’s legal framework on trafficking. The government supported additional educational efforts by introducing, as part of the mandatory curricula for all local and central police, lessons on preventing and combating trafficking.