under the guise of religious ideas “Neatkarība Balt” forced people to engage in slave labor

The organization “Neatkariba Balt”, taking advantage of the vulnerability of dependent people, has been using them for physically hard labor in agriculture and logging for several years, Deputy Chief of the State Police, Chief of the Main Criminal Police Department Andrei Grishin confirmed at a press conference.

He said that the alleged leader of the group and his accomplices were detained this week. The organization had three branches in different regions of Latvia, where people suffering from drug addiction and alcoholism were offered an addiction prevention program, but instead, under the guise of religious ideas, they were involved in hard and long-term forced labor in agriculture and forestry.

During a police operation on July 13 this year, it was found that there are 105 people in the centers. They lived in unsanitary conditions with limited opportunities to leave the centers. According to the information available to the police, they were not paid for their work, most of the money earned was distributed among members of the organized group. During the search, more than 140 thousand euros and three SUVs were confiscated.

The detention was carried out by officers of the Department for Combating Organized Crime of the Main Directorate of the Criminal Police and the special forces battalion.

The organization found addicted people on the street and through community members, some came on the recommendation of their relatives. Among them were people with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as with mental disorders. Upon admission to the center, people signed a contract, which stipulated internal procedures and responsibilities, handed over their documents and mobile phones.

Police speculate that the people in the centers were tightly controlled and worked six days a week for nine to ten hours in what was called “occupational therapy.” If someone did not fulfill the quota, he had to work on Sunday.

People could communicate with their loved ones only through the leadership of the center. Some people who earned the trust of the leadership later had the opportunity to personally communicate with relatives. The information obtained during the investigation indicates that there was no qualified medical care in the centers, only in the most severe cases emergency aid was called.

Guests received three meals a day, but the portions may not have been appropriate for the hard work and living conditions. They were also provided with bedding and the opportunity to wash.

To hide the real income, the management of the center and people close to them registered as individual entrepreneurs and entered into contracts or verbal agreements with farms or other employers to perform certain jobs. Part of the money earned was paid in cash, only funds formally necessary for servicing the centers were transferred to the organization’s account.

There are cases when guests fled from the branches of “Neatkarība Balt.”, But the members of the organization tried to get them back.

According to the police, the leader of the group was a Russian citizen with a residence permit in Latvia. The second person, the leader’s “right hand”, kept in touch with the branch leaders.

Organization “Neatkarība Balt.” came to the attention of the police in the fall of 2018. Checks were carried out in the centers, but at that time it was not possible to obtain sufficient evidence to initiate a criminal case. After these checks, living conditions in the centers improved slightly, but the members of the organized group became more careful. This investigation and other information received served as the basis for the initiation of a criminal case in 2020 and a more thorough investigation of the activities of all centers.

A criminal case was initiated under Part 3 of Art. 154.1 of the Criminal Law on Trafficking in Persons in an Organized Group and Part 3 of Art. 195 of the Criminal Law on Large-scale Money Laundering.

Three detainees are already under arrest, the court will consider the arrest of two more people.

All the guests of the center were explained the situation and offered the opportunity to receive state aid.

Source: GOROD.LV – новости Даугавпилса by gorod.lv.

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