TASHKENT -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov has signed a decree to abolish private notary offices because they are creating a "criminal situation," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.
The decree states that the "pursuit of profit" among private notaries has led them to carry out fraud schemes with real estate agents and car dealers.
"The existing notary system, allowing the practice of both state and private notaries, does not allow the system to carry out all of the duties it should," the decree said.
There are nearly 200 private notary offices in Uzbekistan -- 45 of them in the capital, Tashkent -- with more than 1,000 notary officers working in them.
The presidential decree, which became known last week, has not been officially announced. Instead private notaries were told that the order banning their
activities would come into force on May 15.
A private notary in Tashkent who didn't want to be named told RFE/RL that many notary offices have already stopped providing their services and people are already lining up in long queues at state-run notary offices.
"It's such a mess, everybody's sitting and waiting for their turn there," he said. "And we [private notaries] are ordered to sit at home and do nothing."
Private notaries in Uzbekistan were already sharing 50 percent of their income with the government. A notary from the Kashkadarya region suggested that with its latest decision the government will now get control of all of the money and notary activity will return to the way it was during Soviet times.
Uzbek officials claim there were massive violations of the law by private notaries, referring to 110 cases during the past two years in which private notaries were brought to court and charged with fraud. But officials have said nothing about violations among state-run notaries -- and the notary who spoke to RFE/RL said that the situation regarding fraud is the same in both private and state-run notary offices.
"The closing of private notaries will allow authorities to be able to embark upon a campaign to find wealthy people and to better trace the movement of
their properties [through public notaries], because such information was not always available from private notaries," the notary said.