The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Articles 165 and 206 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law prescribed penalties of six to 12 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim and 10 to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 168 of the criminal code also criminalized forced labor and imposed penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment, which was not sufficiently stringent. Corruption in the judicial system remained an acute impediment to bringing traffickers to justice; prosecutors, members of the judiciary, and members of law enforcement were implicated in corrupt practices. Courts frequently reversed convictions on appeal, sometimes without explanation or on weak grounds. The government prosecuted several officials for complicity in trafficking. A case against a police officer for facilitating prostitution remained ongoing. In January 2018, a court convicted the former deputy director of Moldova’s human trafficking-specialized law enforcement body for accepting bribes in a trafficking-related case and sentenced him to four years in prison; his case remained pending in the appeals court. Prosecutors indicted the director of an orphanage for the sexual and labor exploitation of several children in 2017; in 2018, a court convicted and sentenced the director and an accomplice to 17 years and six months and 17 years, respectively. The court ordered both to pay a minor victim 800,000 Moldovan lei ($47,080). Investigations on several government officials for complicity in trafficking continued in 2018. These included a case against a village mayor for labor trafficking and a case involving the deputy head of a regional labor inspectorate accused of forced labor on an animal farm. Authorities investigated, arrested, or indicted several Moldovan diplomats and the head of the foreign ministry’s consular affairs department for extorting or accepting bribes to facilitate illegal migration.
Authorities conducted 153 trafficking investigations in 2018, compared to 185 in 2017. The government initiated 83 prosecutions in 2018, compared to 85 in 2017, and convicted 59 traffickers, compared to 58 in 2017. Of the 59 convicted traffickers, 56 received prison terms, ranging from three years and three months to 20 years, and three received suspended sentences. There were 20 persons acquitted and seven criminal investigations were terminated.
The Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons (CCTIP), Moldova’s specialized anti-trafficking law enforcement body, was staffed by approximately 40 officers. The unit suffered from significant turnover of experienced staff during the year, which hindered the body’s ability to investigate complex cases—such as those involving transnational criminal gangs or complex financial transactions. Observers reported CCTIP focused on simpler domestic sex trafficking cases rather than complex international cases, which boosted the center’s statistics. The Prosecutors General Office (PGO) expanded staff of the Trafficking in Persons and Cybercrimes Unit, which was dedicated in part to trafficking crimes, from five prosecutors to 10, who focused solely on the investigation stage of the criminal justice process. Observers remarked increased staff led to the unit prosecuting significantly more trafficking cases. The Chisinau Prosecutor’s Office maintained an Anti-Trafficking Bureau and monitored the assignment of cases, ensuring only prosecutors with specialized training received trafficking cases. Every territorial prosecutor’s office outside the capital had a designated prosecutor to cover these cases. A separate team of six prosecutors within the PGO continued to serve as the focal point for international trafficking cases and monitor the Anti-Trafficking Bureau; it also tracked trends and data. In May 2018, the government established a new case allocation system for criminal trafficking cases, ensuring judges with specialized trafficking experience would hear them. Moldovan authorities cooperated with foreign counterparts on multiple trafficking investigations. Mostly using donor funding, the government and international organizations trained police, border guards, prosecutors, and judges in 2018.
Prosecutors did not develop investigative techniques that corroborate testimony or consistently employ a victim-centered approach to cases. A February 2016 Constitutional Court decision limited the time suspects may be detained to 12 months. Because final verdicts in trafficking cases can take years, this ruling obligated authorities to release suspected traffickers before trials concluded, enabling them to flee the country or retaliate against witnesses. Observers reported traffickers tried to manipulate, blackmail, or bribe victims to change their testimony. In 2018, only one victim and their family members benefited from witness protection programs, compared to three in 2017, despite many more in need of such protection. The National Investigative Inspectorate (INI) maintained a policy requiring CCTIP to regularly inform the INI of the suspects in CCTIP’s investigations, to include subjects of search warrants before searches were executed, which increased the risk of corrupt officers warning suspects ahead of raids or intervening in ongoing investigations. In July 2018, the PGO issued an order calling for investigations in the case of a witness or victim changing testimony; during the reporting period, law enforcement initiated seven investigations of suspected witness intimidation and all seven resulted in criminal cases.