Why do human traffickers continue to enjoy impunity?
The Department for Combating Organized Crime has reported yet another success: it has disbanded a large human trafficking group in the Kyiv Oblast. Based on the latest data, the criminals sold at least 40 women to brothels abroad. Every year, Ukrainian police initiate nearly 50 criminal cases involving human trafficking for sexual exploitation abroad. Most cases end up in court and the guilty are imprisoned. However, nobody knows exactly how many human traffickers escape punishment. Another problem is that the key people behind the “export” of Ukrainian women are often beyond Ukrainian jurisdiction. Therefore, recruiters and transporters are the ones that end up behind bars, while the real bosses remain in the shadow.
The verdict against Andrius Mikulenis, a German citizen, and Olha Reznikova, his Lviv-based companion, came into effect last year. They were convicted for the repeated attempt to drag Ukrainian women into prostitution in German brothels. Officially working as a business advisor Mikulenis offered women work as prostitutes. Olha Reznikova helped him.
Mikulenis was sentenced to four years in jail while Olha was given a four-year suspended sentence. In fact, the direct executors were punished, rather than the organizers of the scams. A man known as Hans Mayer played an important role in Mikulenis’ scheme. He launched an extensive online advertising campaign. “Attractive uninhibited girls are invited to work at a prestigious club in Germany. A good salary is offered. Those interested in the offer can meet with my business partner.” This was the announcement was posted on dating sites and various forums. Andrius Mikulenis was the partner. A woman who accepted the offer received an invitation from Pavelas Latyshevas, another Lithuanian-based criminal, to get a visa to Europe.
He drew up labour contracts to employ Ukrainian women as dancers and masseuses. The girls signed up with two companies. One was Kristall owned by Pavelas Latyshevas. The other company was called Cananga Personal Services CJSC, also owned by Mr. Latyshevas. Ukrainian law enforcement officers sent several requests to Interpol and the relevant authorities in Lithuania but did not receive much help from their foreign colleagues.
UNDERFUNDED LAW ENFORCEMENT
Law enforcement officers claim that finding all the international human trafficking links is a great challenge for them. One police officer with significant experience in similar cases spoke to The Ukrainian Week off the record. He believes that a lot of the problems of solving such crimes lie in legislation: it bans any search and investigation actions abroad; working with foreign law enforcement officers is often difficult, and the multilevel system for the approval of international orders slows down the collection of data on foreign parties to a case. Moreover, there is a lack of funds for trips abroad or the translation of questions and answers.
“For instance, the victims name several pimps in the Czech Republic,” the police officer expands. “We get their photographs and addresses. I go to Prague. The only place where I can collect evidence is on the territory of the Ukrainian Consulate, but the Czech police were unable to bring the suspects to me.”
The only option for the police is to email Interpol and the local police, asking them to question specific people on specific details. “But those who will perform the orders don’t know all details of the case,” the police officer says. “What we ask of them is usually done formally: the local police only ask the questions we stipulate. But what matters, is the extra information that is learned during the interrogation process, which give rise to more questions.”
Even the procedure for establishing data on foreigners is extremely complex because of Ukrainian legislation. For example, an international order has to go through several phases of approval, including a local law enforcement office, the Ministry of the Interior and General Prosecutor’s Office. The reply requires an identical procedure. At each level, the order can be returned to the investigator with comments. If this happens, the entire procedure starts all over again. The result – answers to international orders take a long time, but the criminal case needs to be submitted to court. Therefore, investigators compile materials on cases related to suspects located abroad into separate proceedings, that are often “frozen” for years.
THE UNTOUCHABLE CYPRIOTS
Mariana Korytych was recently tried in Lviv. She was found guilty of human trafficking. The lady sent two girls from Lviv into sexual slavery. There may have been more, but charges were only proved on these two.
Teofil Osadets, a lawyer for one of the victims, says that the two girls, who were friends, were met at the airport in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Joined by other girls, they got into a small bus that took them to a doctor for an examination. Later, the girls ended up at a night club outside of town. In the evenings, they would do a striptease and were forced to work as prostitutes after 11 p.m. 15 women worked in this fashion at any given time.
The organizers told the girls that they owed them USD 5,000 for travel and employment costs. After that, they would impose fines for lame reasons to boost the debt. They would go to clients with guards. One of the girls ended up suffering from nervous breakdowns and psychosis. She was given a ticket and sent back to Ukraine. However, she was warned that if she told the police anything, her friend would only be found in pieces.
Mariana Korotych was punished, but the brothel for which she recruited women continues to operate and new slaves are heading there. The club is called “Sexy Lady”. Located on the outskirts of Gerolakkos, a village near Nicosia, it is owned by Khakki Beiaz. A man called Tahir is the contact person for recruiters in Cyprus. Khakan Samerli (Surmeli) is Beiaz’s right-hand man. He meets the girls at the airport, takes them for medical examinations, imposes fines and beats them.
Interpol reported the following: “It has been established that Khakki Beiaz forces Ukrainian women into prostitution. He is also accused of drug dealing.” But neither the Ukrainian police, nor international bodies can do anything about him. Why? The response from Interpol – “This territory is under the control of the Turkish Army”.
THE VICTIM’S FAULT
“Criminal cases on sexual exploitation are often not initiated at all or closed before reaching the court,” says Olena Kalbus, a psychologist at the West-Ukrainian Center “Women’s Prospects”. “The victims are reluctant to contact the police – they fear publicity and the fact that their family, friends and the public will find out about their involvement in prostitution. Many fear revenge on the part of the criminals.”
The criminals keep inventing new schemes. Several years ago, girls would go abroad en masse, allegedly under student exchange programmes. College, vocational school and lyceum students majoring in tourism or hotel management were forced into prostitution during their internship programmes. Now, ever more often, human traffickers use marriage agencies as a cover.
“People profiting from sexual exploitation abroad are wealthy and can afford experienced lawyers,” Olena Kalbus notes. “They can easily “ruin” criminal cases by putting continuous pressure on the victims, using their alleged voluntary decision as an excuse. The lawyers play on the feeling of guilt experienced by most victims of sexual exploitation.”
It is also difficult to identify all the links of human trafficking because victims are being recruited abroad more and more often, says Ihor Hnat, Director of the Regional Center for Social Adjustment charity. Together with his associates, Mr. Hnat rescues Ukrainian women from sexual slavery.
“There are Ukrainian girls in Europe, the Middle East and Africa who never voluntarily agreed to prostitution; they worked as maids, dishwashers, housekeepers or took care of elderly people.” he says. “They eventually became trapped in the snares of people, who make huge profits from prostitution. The latter have many ways of making a woman work in the sex industry, ranging from the getting them into debt, to threats and fraud.”
“Selling women to perverts is another type of human trafficking,” Mr. Hnat laments. “The pervery plays with her and you never know what happens next. He can sell her on to someone else, lose her in a poker game or kill her. We rescued Svitlana (the name has been changed) from a pervert in a European country. He kept her chained and abused her while recording everything on video. We broke into the house and found her chained, but how can the sadist be brought to justice? We entered his apartment illegally. We couldn’t wait any longer because he was about to take Svitlana elsewhere. So what if we had a huge bag with videos of recorded abuse – it was collected illegally! The pervert would avoid punishment if we went to the police. I, on the other hand, would be criminally liable.”