RIGA - Law enforcement officials are preparing to take to court three modeling agencies suspected of sexually abusing at least 20 underage girls.
The LNT evening news show reported on Jan. 21 that one of the companies under suspicion is the U.S.-based Rose Model Agencies, the only name which has been revealed in connection with the case.
The television news program reported that the model agency was a cover for various illegal activities, including explicit sexual acts performed by minors.
"If it is connected with sexual or pornographic nuances 's these are criminal offenses to be punished with the utmost severity," the Baltic News Services quoted Children and Family Affairs Minister Ainars Bastiks as saying on Jan. 22.
The owner of the model agency is reportedly a Dutch national with a criminal record in the United States. A Latvian court has already released the man on bail, but if convicted he could serve up to seven years in prison.
The Rose Model Agency Web site explicitly states that the agency does not field phone calls about job offers, saying that potential models will "find out specific details of all jobs once you are registered as a Rose Model."
Ever since splitting from the Soviet Union and opening its border to the outside world, Latvia 's and the other Baltic states as well 's has become prey to sexual predators of all types.
On Jan. 20 the Baltic News Service reported that the Riga Regional Court was set to begin a hearing against a U.S. national charged with sexual abuse of an underage girl in Riga.
According to the report, the girl began corresponding last fall the the 37 year old American on the popular Latvian Web site draugiem.lv in order to improve her English. The man eventually came to Riga at the end of last year to meet her, inviting her and her underage friend to his place of residence, where he abused the girl.
The other two model agencies under investigation stand accused of featuring pictures of young girls in sexual positions and forcing the girls to sign extremely restrictive contracts.
The State Children Rights Protection Inspectorate expressed its suspicions about the agency to police after a visit to the agency's offices revealed only "locked doors" and attempts to contact the owner proved impossible.
On Jan. 3, four people were charged with trafficking as many as 280 women to the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, Monaco and Seychelles to work as prostitutes for rich Arab sheiks.
The women, some of whom were under-age, were told they were going to be given modeling jobs.