Eight detained on suspicion of human trafficking at rehabilitation center in Latvia

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The State Police (VP) has detained a group of eight people in connection with the possible human trafficking at the addiction prevention center "Neatkarība-Balt" network, the police said at a press briefing on July 15.

The investigation found that the association had three branches in different places in Latvia, where drug and alcohol addicts were offered to participate in an addiction prevention program, but instead of receiving treatment, the people were involved in heavy and prolonged forced labor. The victims had to work in agriculture and forestry, but opportunities to leave the centers were limited, police said.

Workers were also not paid anything for their work, and most of the money earned was distributed among the members of the organized group. The police are suspecting the detained persons for large-scale money laundering, too.

Deputy Chief of the State Police Main Crime division Andrejs Grišins said that the organization Neatkarība-Balt had hidden behind a veil of a religious organization and involved people addicted to drugs, alcohol, and people with mental disorders.

The police confirmed that the 'work therapy' for the addicts took place six days a week, nine to ten hours a day. The people were provided with three meals a day, beds and bathrooms, but the police suspect that the meals were insufficient for the work conditions.

The group leader was a Russian national who had a residence permit in Latvia. The police conceded that he made the most profit. The leader assistant's task was to maintain close contact with the leaders of the three centers and hand over the leader's tasks. Next by status were the heads of the centers, who, together with the so-called brigadiers, organized internal arrangements. Brigadiers, meanwhile, had been chosen from among the residents of the centers who had gained leadership confidence.

Grišins said a large number of searches had been carried out and €140,000 in cash, as well as three cars, many data carriers and documents that could contain information on the movement of criminal money and the operation of work, were removed. There are currently three people in custody, but on Thursday, July 15, investigators will ask for the arrest of two more people.

At the scene, the law guards met 105 residents to whom, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they explained and offered the possibility of receiving State aid. 23 people agreed to be helped, who also expressed their desire to testify as victims.

Grišins said that the inhabitants of these centers will also be addressed later, because “unfortunately there are some vulnerable people who do not understand their human rights and their right to social services.”

The  “Neatkarība-Balt” rehabilitation center had already come to Latvian Radio's attention in 2013. At that time, over several months, Latvian Radio studied and concluded that this rehabilitation center illegally employed alcohol and drug addicts in the municipality of Balvi.

Latvian Radio informed both the State Revenue Service and the Ministry of Welfare about possible illegal employment, but there was no action. Grišins, on the other hand, said in the press conference that the police were looking into this organization in the autumn of 2018. Checks were carried out at the centers at the time, but the police had not succeeded in obtaining a sufficient set of evidence to press any charges. After these checks, living conditions improved slightly in the centers, but the members of the group became more cautious.


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