Sentence expected in Latvia's first modern slavery case

Take note – story published 4 years ago

On September 18 the Vidzeme District Court in Cēsis reviewed the first case in Latvia in which someone has been accused of human trafficking and exploitation. The owner of the Mežmaļi farm in Vaive parish near Cēsis stands accused for reducing two people to servitude. The defense pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor asked for the man to be jailed for two and a half years, but the representative of the two workers sought four years' imprisonment, LTV reported September 18. 

Agrita and Gunārs worked separately at the Mežmaļi farm from 2016 to 2017 on unofficial terms. They received but a part of the pay that was promised them and lived in the farm. Gunārs wasn't paid as the owner said he hadn't been paid for the milk yet. Gunārs left the farm without receiving all that he was due. Agrita was hired in his stead. She had nowhere to stay and therefore lodged at the farm. After a few months she lodged a complaint with the The State Labor Inspectorate. The police came to the farm and led the unofficially employed and exposed woman to the Drošā māja shelter. Agrita is represented in court by Drošā māja lawyer Gita Miruškina.

"We worked with this person for six months. A psychologist and other medical specialists were involved, as her hands had to be operated. Her hands had suffered from hard work, from cold water, from working in the cold. Her fingers were clenched so she couldn't open her palms," said Miruškina.

She also related the working and living conditions at the farm. The building where they lived was right by the cattle-shed. The only heat they had came from the cattle, but therefore it stank. The cattle-shed was also very dirty.

"Human trafficking has usually been identified as sexual exploitation. While labor exploitation is a new way of human trafficking for Latvia," said the prosecutor Daiga Gavariņa.

Meanwhile the farm's owner said the two of them had every chance to leave whenever they wanted to. 

"I don't admit it was human trafficking. I had no intention of engaging in human trafficking or exploitation. I wanted to cooperate with them and engage in cooperation and developing [my] company," said Mežmaļi owner Dainis Gipters.

Lawyer Miruškina however said that both of the employees had not only physical but also mental problems that made them particularly vulnerable. 

Gipters meanwhile ventured to say that he had paid the employees and even made advance payments to his own account to buy food for the employees, who he said didn't want to work under employment contracts.

While the prosecutor said that the accused exploited Agrita and Gunārs' vulnerability and didn't pay them for hard manual labor. 

Agrita has found a job as a social worker after spending six months rehabilitating at the Drošā māja asylum center and didn't arrive to curt. The other victim didn't use rehabilitation services but didn't arrive to court as he had to undergo surgery. 

The court decision is pending September 20. 

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