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Google Tweaks AdWords To Give Landing Page Quality More Weight

Oct 3, 2011 at 7:19pm ET by 

After quietly testing in Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, Google will roll out a new algorithm globally that gives more weight to landing page quality when it comes to AdWords Quality Score. This means ads with landing pages that Google deems to be most relevant to the query will be able to rank higher for lower cost-per-click bids.

“What we’ve seen is that there are ads available in the auction that are as good a quality as the top ads. But the landing pages — the merchant sites, the advertiser landing pages — are of much higher quality than the ads that we see at the top of our auction,” Jonathan Alferness, director of product management on Google’s ad quality team told me. This, says Alferness, means the user experience isn’t what it could be. Hence the change to give more weight to landing page quality. “In the end, we believe that this will result in better quality experience for the users.”

Landing page quality has long been a factor in Google AdWords, but more as a negative signal. If an advertiser’s landing page was particularly terrible or misleading, advertisers could have their ads rejected or their accounts suspended or revoked — depending on how bad the policy violation was. The new change will assign landing page quality a positive value, incentivizing advertisers to make sure the landing page’s keywords and content are closely aligned with the keywords for which they’re bidding. Ads with high landing page quality will get a “strong boost” upward in the auction, according to Alferness.

Alferness says Google will crawl the landing pages associated with every ad and make a determination as to its quality.

“What we always ask our advertisers to focus on is relevance — choose a landing page or site experience that is both relevant to the keywords that you’re targeting and also a good experience for end users,” said Alferness. “This is just continuing to sort of push on those best practices. I gives us the ability to really reward those advertisers that have been doing this, whose landing pages really are some of the best in our systems.”

The change will roll out in the next week or two. Advertisers may see some variations in ad position and keyword Quality Score at first, but things should settle down within a couple of weeks, according to Google.

Related Topics: Google: AdWords | Top News


About The Author:  is a contributing editor for Search Engine Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998, including a stint as managing editor of ClickZ. She’s also worked to help monetize independent publishers’ sites at Federated Media Publishing. She blogs about media and marketing at The River and about cooking, gardening and parenthood at Free Range. She can be found on Twitter as @pamelaparker

http://searchengineland.com/google-tweaks-adwords-to-give-landing-page-quality-more-weight-95488

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Top 10 Negative Google News Ranking Factors

Oct 3, 2011 at 1:28pm ET by 

Last week, I released the results of a survey of Google News Ranking Factors with some of the top news SEOs in the business. While there has been plenty of response regarding the Top 10 Most Important Factors, I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the Top Negative Factors. In my work with local news publishers, I have seen many of them doing a lot of things which hurt their rankings.

1.  Duplicate Content

Just as in traditional Web SEO, duplicate content was determined to be the biggest negative factor. And while plenty of news sites create duplicate content on their own, those surveyed focused on the use of other sources’ content on your site, particularly scraped or plagiarized content.

Google is getting better at determining the original source of the content and degrading the rankings of the sites that “borrow” it. And if you are distributing press releases on your site, make sure you separate your original news content from your press releases by creating two different sections on your site and adding “nofollow” tags to all links to press releases.

2.  Vague, Abstract Headlines

This is a fancy way of saying headlines that don’t target specific high value keywords. I remember when Eliot Spitzer got caught with the hooker and the NY Post ran the headline “Ho No!” Awesome headline. Amazing linkbait.

If you can write a headline like that, then go for it, but everyone else should stick to “Spitzer Caught With Hooker”. If you are writing headlines for a news site, you need to learn how to do keyword research.

3.  No Google News Sitemap

I am always surprised when I find a news site not using these. I have seen dramatic differences in crawling, indexing and rankings as a result of using a Google News Sitemap. It’s not particularly hard to implement. What are you waiting for?

4.  Poor Quality Content

Google News has ways of algorithmically and manually determining if your site tends to misspell words, use poor grammar, and generally produce poor quality content. There’s no excuse for bad writing!

5.  Blocking Googlebot Via Robots.txt

This is one of those classic SEO screw-ups that keeps a SEO consultant’s phone ringing in the middle of the night. If your organic traffic just tanked, one of the first things you should do is check your robots.txt file and make sure you don’t see these two lines:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

6.  Poor Site Performance

If your site is slow and/or produces a lot of 500 errors, your rankings are going to suffer. Google wants to send people to fast-loading pages. There are variety of tools you can use to monitor your site’s performance including the Crawl Stats and Site Performance reports in Google Webmaster Tools and Google’s Page Speed Tool.

My favorite technique is to use a script to track your server logs for when Googlebot gets 4xx or 5xx response codes, then send out an email to the team notifying them of the errors. Whomever is responsible for performance will have a heavy incentive to keep the site error-free and keep those emails to a minimum.

7.  Poor CitationRank

CitationRank is the measure of how well a story on a news site gets linked to from or referenced on other sites, particularly other news sites. These kinds of citations demonstrate that the story is authoritative on the subject. If you can’t get others to link to your story, it’s going to be harder to get it up on top.

8. Low PageRank Domain

If your site’s overall SEO program is not competitive, you will have a harder time ranking. Make sure you are at least getting the basics right. Make sure your site is accessible to search engine robots, targets high value keywords and regularly gets links from other sites.

9.  New Site

Just as new sites can have a harder time ranking in Google’s Web results, sites with low/no trust and/or history in Google News will have a harder time ranking well.

New sites must demonstrate trust by getting linked to from other authoritative sites, by getting well-shared via popular social media channels and by getting well-clicked-on relative to other sites in Google News for a particular story.

“Category Authority” was deemed by our panel to be the most important ranking factor, so new sites will likely have the best luck if they focus on a specific niche to be expert in.

10. All Syndicated Content With The Same Titles As The Source Site

While this is basically the same thing as Duplicate Content, the panel seemed to think this case deserved special mention as more and more news organizations put more reliance on syndicated content, without even bothering to rewrite any of it.

If you don’t put your own spin on the news, you are not going to do well in Google News.

For more information on various Google News Ranking Factors, check outwww.googlenewsrankingfactors.com.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Google: News | Google: SEO | Locals Only


About The Author:  is the proprietor of Local SEO Guide, a local search engine optimization consulting company specializing in yellow pages seo and local directory search—the blog is pretty fabulous too. 

http://searchengineland.com/top-10-negative-google-news-ranking-factors-95012?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feed-main

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Wikileaks Torture

Right now, Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning is being tortured in a US military prison. Manning is subjected to utter isolation that can drive many people insane, with short periods each day where he is stripped naked and abused by jeering inmates.

Manning is awaiting trial for releasing secret military documents to Wikileaks – including a video of US soldiers massacring Iraqi civilians. And his brutal treatment appears to be part of an intimidation campaign to silence whistleblowers and crack down on Wikileaks. The US government is split on this issue, with diplomats publicly criticizing the military for Manning’s treatment, but President Obama has stood aside so far.

Obama cares about the US’s global reputation – we need to show him that it’s at stake here. Let’s build a massive global call to the US government to stop torturing Manning and uphold the law. Sign the petition below — our message will be delivered through hard-hitting ads and actions in Washington DC as soon as we reach 250,000 signatures.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bradley_manning/?fp

Pardew’s cable about Bulgarian Mafia 2005

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 09 SOFIA 001207
SIPDIS
HOMELAND SECURITY PLEASE PASS TO SECRET SERVICE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2015
TAGS: PINR KCRM PGOV EINV ECON KCOR BU
SUBJECT: (U) BULGARIAN ORGANIZED CRIME (C-CN5-00054)
REF: A. A. STATE 99125  B. B. SOFIA 1046
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JAMES PARDEW, FOR REASON 1.4(C).
¶1. (U) This cable is in response to ref A request for information about organized crime in Bulgaria and the Balkans. Where direct sources are not cited, connections are largely based on information from operational contacts and open-source publications.
———————– OVERVIEW AND ACTIVITIES ———————–
¶2. (SBU) The strength and immunity from the law of organized crime (OC) groups is arguably the most serious problem in Bulgaria today. OC activities underlie corruption and the ineffectiveness of the legal system in Bulgaria, and inhibit the country’s economic development. Bulgarian OC is particularly involved in international money laundering, drug trafficking, and counterfeiting. OC groups range from local street thugs involved in extortion to sophisticated international narcotic dealers and money launderers. An estimated 118 organized crime groups were operating in Bulgaria at the end of 2004, according to the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior (MoI), though many of these groups are relatively small and the landscape is dominated by a handful of big players. Organized crime continues to be pervasive in many spheres of Bulgarian life, despite domestic and international efforts to combat it. To date, not a single major OC figure has been punished by the Bulgarian legal system, despite an on-going series of OC-related assassinations. U.S. law enforcement agencies with offices in Sofia are supporting the effort to reduce OC in Bulgaria. The Fraud Prevention Unit in Embassy Sofia’s Consular Section maintains a list of known and suspected major organized crime figures, and Embassy Sofia has an aggressive policy of preventing OC figures from traveling to the United States.
¶3. (SBU) OC groups are known to be involved in narcotics trafficking, prostitution, extortion and racketeering, various financial crimes, car theft, and trafficking in stolen automobiles. Human trafficking for sexual exploitation, counterfeiting, and debit and credit card fraud also are some of the most common criminal activities engaged in by Bulgarian organized crime. Crime groups involved in human trafficking are extremely mobile, and victims are often sold or traded amongst various groups. Many groups use a host of legitimate businesses domestically and abroad to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities. Several well-known businessmen linked to organized crime have parlayed their wealth into ownership of sports teams, property developments, and financial institutions. (An organized crime activity that received special attention due to its growth in 2004 was VAT (value-added tax) fraud. The Ministry of Finance estimated that VAT fraud cost the Bulgarian treasury over $700 million in losses annually.)
¶4. (SBU) Counterfeit currency — both U.S. dollar and, increasingly, Euro banknotes — is produced in Bulgaria and distributed primarily in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain by small groups of Bulgarians who return to Bulgaria immediately after making delivery. While there is thought to be cooperation between Bulgarian groups and other international organized crime groups, the couriers, middlemen and distributors are predominantly Bulgarian. The quality of counterfeit currency is continuously improving due to increasingly sophisticated printing facilities and the involvement of professional individuals with considerable printing skills. A June 2005 raid in northeast Bulgaria — part of a joint operation between Bulgarian law enforcement and the U.S. Secret Service — netted more than $3 million in high-quality counterfeit $100 banknotes (ref B). This was the second largest counterfeit seizure in European history.
¶5. (C) U.S.-based investigations of transnational crime groups have dismantled significant drug trafficking organizations run by Bulgarian nationals in Los Angeles and Tampa. These groups imported multi-kilo quantities of cocaine and multi-thousand doses of ecstasy into the United States. They had drug connections through Amsterdam and some financial backing of an Israeli national. While most members of these groups were convicted and imprisoned in the U.S., three who were charged in California and Florida are still wanted international fugitives who may have returned to Bulgaria to exploit the country’s current policy of not extraditing its citizens. The three fugitives are IVAYLO ANGELOV PETKOV (Bulgarian citizen born 18 May 1965), IVAN DOBREV (Bulgarian citizen born 25 May 1959), and STEFAN TZVETANOV STOYANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 9 January 1966).
¶6. (SBU) Other investigations in the U.S. have identified Bulgarian nationals manufacturing and selling false identity documents for use in organized bank fraud, mortgage fraud, credit card fraud, and alien smuggling.
————————————– WHO’S WHO IN BULGARIAN ORGANIZED CRIME ————————————–
¶7. (C) Since the fall of Communism in 1989 and the turbulent 1990s, Bulgaria’s organized crime scene has undergone major changes, much like the rest of Bulgaria’s economic, political, and social landscape. Once the doyen of Bulgarian organized crime, MULTIGRUP’s (MG) prominence has dramatically declined following the assassination of its leader, Iliya Pavlov in 2003. MG has actively tried to transform some activities into a legitimate business group focused on managing the vast assets it acquired during its heyday. The group hired a U.S. lobbyist to focus on legitimate enterprises and to improve MG’s image. Former Multigrup operatives went on to found Bulgaria’s two other major organized crime groupings, VIS and SIC. Both have since disbanded, but their remnants are still actively involved in organized criminal activity. However, the presence and clout of their remnants/successors appears to be in decline as members continually switch allegiances between groupings, depending on their personal economic interests.
The up-and-coming star of Bulgarian organized crime, the Varna-based TIM group, is increasingly resembling MULTIGRUP in its successful efforts to permeate as many legal and illegal sectors as possible; currently, TIM and its subsidiary business empire is one of the largest and most serious economic concerns in Bulgaria.
¶A. (C) TIM — The New Leader in Bulgarian OC  Founded in Varna in 1993, TIM is thought to have been set up by about ten former marines who had been part of an elite military unit before it was disbanded in the early 1990s. TIM has filled the vacuum created by MG’s decline following Iliya Pavlov’s killing in 2003. The name of the grouping is thought to be derived from the first initials of its three main figures: TIHOMIR IVANOV MITEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 October 1958), IVO KAMENOV GEORGIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 22 September 1969), and MARIN VELIKOV MITEV (Bulgarian citizen born 5 October 1957). It is believed that 12 people control all of TIM’s companies — which in 2003 were estimated to number over 150 and include over 10,000 employees — with each of the 12 holding fixed shares in the assets and running separate sectors of the group’s business empire. Despite trying to portray itself as a purely legitimate business grouping, TIM remains very secretive about its corporate structure and ownership, and its companies and divisions are entangled in a complex set of relationships.  As an organized crime group, TIM is involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including extortion and racketeering, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, narcotics trafficking, car theft, and trafficking in stolen automobiles. TIM’s home base of Varna has a large Russian population, and TIM is thought to have connections to Russian organized crime, including the notorious Russian crime figure, MICHAEL CHORNY (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE).  Tihomir Mitev oversees TIM’s industrial operations. His older brother, Marin, controls TIM’s core business interests in Varna and the surrounding region, while Ivo Georgiev oversees TIM’s Sofia operations and the group’s financial interests. Other notable members of the group include MIROSLAV PETROV NESTOROV (Bulgarian citizen born 12 March 1964), who is in charge of the group’s strategic planning and also is director of TIM’s large service sector subsidiary MUSTANG HOLDINGS; YORDAN DIMITROV YORDANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 24 November 1974), who oversees most of TIM’s media interests and also sits on Mustang’s board; and Nikolai Bozhidarov Nikolov (Bulgarian citizen born 28 August 1949), Mustang’s CEO and husband of Varna’s chief architect and city planner.  TIM’s initial activities involved collecting bad debts — a line of business that has contributed to the group’s negative public image but which still remains one of its main activities — and providing security services in the Varna region. In the mid-1990s, the group branched out to agriculture and foodstuffs, and its current interests include grain storage and poultry farming, as well as the SUHINDOL winery (through the SEVERCO-GAMZA company), which predominantly produces red wines for both domestic consumption and export. In Varna, TIM’s presence is seen and felt everywhere. Its media interests include M-SAT television (a Varna-based broadcaster available nationally by cable and satellite), five other cable television stations, two cable television operators, Alpha Radio (also available nationally), “Cherno More” newspaper (the largest circulation newspaper in Varna and its surrounding region), and the advertising agency servicing these media interests. TIM also owns a chain of restaurants, cinemas, video rental shops, sports clubs, Internet gaming clubs, and bingo halls. The recently-launched, large-scale ALLEY ONE project plans to build seven hotels, 500 eating and entertainment facilities, and 300 shops on a 250-acre tract on the Black Sea coast near Varna.  TIM controls some of the largest quarries of inert materials in Bulgaria, and through its trading company, CHIMIMPORT, it also has a significant share of the production and trade in fertilizers, petroleum products, and chemicals. TIM’s takeover of CENTRAL COOPERATIVE BANK (CCB), the group’s largest acquisition to date, was facilitated through Chimimport. After acquiring CCB, TIM continued to expand its financial sector operations by acquiring specialized financial service companies, including the insurance company ARMEETS. Again going through Chimimport, in 2002, TIM acquired a majority stake in Newton Financial Management BG, owner of the Bulgarian pension insurance company SILA. Newton Financial Management BG has since been renamed CCB GROUP ASSETS MANAGEMENT. TIM has used its substantial financial sector presence to offer one-stop shopping of combined banking, insurance, and pension services.  In 2003, Chimimport bought 49 percent of Bulgaria’s second-largest air carrier, HEMUS AIR, later taking over 100 percent ownership of Hemus. In 2004, Chimimport also acquired 100 percent of a smaller airline, VIAGGIO; the takeover was approved by Viaggio’s largest shareholder, TODOR BATKOV (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE), Michael Chorny’s lawyer and personal representative. With its combined interests in Hemus and Viaggio, TIM is thought to have its sights set on Bulgaria’s soon-to-be-privatized flag carrier, BULGARIA AIR.
¶B. (C) VAI HOLDINGS (formerly VIS and VIS 2)  Founded in 1991 by a former wrestler, Vasil Iliev, the group’s initial name, VIS, was an acronym for Vasil Iliev Security. After the group’s license to carry out security services was revoked, the group was renamed VIS 2. In 1994, Iliev set up the IMPERIAL brokerage company in Vratsa. In 1995, Iliev was shot dead, and his younger brother, GEORGI ANDREEV ILIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 22 July 1966, also known as “JORO”), took over the leadership of VIS 2, which has since been renamed VAI HOLDINGS.  While “Joro” Iliev is the recognized leader of VAI, his lieutenant, NIKOLAI MIRCHOV TSVETIN (Bulgarian citizen born 27 February 1965, also known as “THE TWIN” and “KOKO”), is thought to be in charge of most of the group’s companies and activities. Other high-ranking members of VAI include ANTON BOYANOV and PLAMEN VASILEV TIMEV (Bulgarian citizen born 2 March 1952, also known as “GANDI”). In November 2003, another high-ranking member of VAI, METODI ZLATANOV METODIEV (Bulgarian citizen born 12 October 1965, also known as “METO ILIYANSKI”), disappeared; while police believe he was kidnapped and possibly killed, it is also possible he is in hiding.  Before he was shot dead in Amsterdam in December 2003, KONSTANTIN DIMITROV (Bulgarian citizen born 21 November 1970, also known as “SAMOKOVETSA”) was one of the biggest smugglers in Bulgaria and the country’s top drug lord. Georgi Iliev, a relative of Dimitrov’s, was also his best man. After Dimitrov’s murder, VAI retained control of the drug market through ANTON PETROV MILTENOV (Bulgarian citizen born 28 October 1973, also known as “THE BEAK”), who is thought to have inherited Dimitrov’s smuggling and drugs operations.  Another of Georgi Iliev’s close friends, DIMITAR ILIEV DZHAMOV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 July 1960), is involved in local drug dealing in central and southern Bulgaria. Dzhamov, an importer of Russian natural gas, is also thought to be involved in money laundering and to have ties to Turkish organized crime through the Turkish businessman YAMAN HAKI NAMLY. A former wrestler, Dzhamov started out in organized crime as the driver of the late ILIYA PAVLOV (see MULTIGRUP). As the largest player in the drugs market, VAI controls trafficking routes, production facilities, and distribution networks. The group is also involved in trafficking stolen automobiles from Western Europe to the former Soviet Union. Its other criminal activities include extortion and racketeering, illegal arms trading, gambling, prostitution, and smuggling.VAI has extensive business interests in tourism, finance, entertainment, and manufacturing. It controls JUPITER insurance company, as well as SUNNY BEACH, one of Bulgaria’s largest resorts on the Black Sea coast north of Burgas. The group also owns a number of local soccer teams, and the XGROUND MODELING AGENCY is controlled by VAI through Georgi Iliev’s wife, MARIA DELCHEVA ILIEVA[1] (Bulgarian citizen born 25 May 1973, also known as MARIA DELCHEVA PENELOVA).
¶C. (C) INTERGROUP (formerly SIC)  KRASIMIR ANDREEV MARINOV (Bulgarian citizen born 6 May 1964, also known as “THE BIG MARGIN”), the group’s current president and another former wrestler, founded SIC (and later INTERGROUP) with MLADEN MIHALEV (Bulgarian citizen born 13 October 1964, also known as “MADJO”), also a former wrestler, and RUMEN GOTZOV NIKOLOV (Bulgarian citizen born 26 May 1962, also known as “THE PASHA”). Nikolov is also connected to the UNION OF FORMER COMMANDOS (see below). The reported mastermind behind the group’s operations is VENTSISLAV DIMITROV STEFANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 28 November 1949). In April 2004, his son, DIMITAR VENTSISLAVOV DIMITROV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 September 1980) was kidnapped and has not been recovered.  Intergroup’s illegal activities include narcotics (especially heroin), financial fraud (through its ties with the AMIGOS financial guarantee company), car thefts and trafficking in stolen automobiles, smuggling, extortion and racketeering, and prostitution. The group’s narcotics interests are handled mostly through its connections with IVAN TODOROV (see AMIGOS), who is thought to be one of the largest drug traffickers in the Balkans. KIRIL SOTIROV KIROV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1953, also known as “THE JAPANESE”), known as the Roma drug baron, is connected to INTERGROUP and is also closely connected to IVAN TODOROV (see AMIGOS). Kirov, who is also involved in human trafficking and alien smuggling, barely survived a second assassination attempt in April 2005.  Intergroup’s legal business interests range from sport teams (SLAVIA) to banking (FIRST EAST INTERNATIONAL BANK) and insurance to petroleum and metals trading to construction and real estate (SOFISKI IMOTI) to modeling (VISAGES). Ventsislav is the manager of the Slavia soccer team in Sofia.  GEORGI LIALEV also serves on Slavia’s managing board. Lialev’s father, Traian Lialev, is Dean of the Law Faculty of Southwestern University in Blagoevgrad; through Lialev, Rumen Nikolov and Mladen Mihalev received law degrees. Georgi Lialev is also a business partner with RUMEN GAITANSKI (Bulgarian citizen, also known as “THE WOLF”), whose company, WOLF 96, also has connections with Intergroup.  The Visages modeling agency was founded in 1994 by EVGENIYA GEORGIEVA KALKANDZHIEVA (Bulgarian citizen born 20 February 1975); she is believed to have close ties to Krasimir Marinov.  The group’s insurance company, BUL INS, is the largest insurer in Bulgaria. One area where the group’s legal and illegal activities coalesced is in car theft and automobile insurance. Automobiles insured by Bul Ins display special identity stickers meant to protect them from being stolen; cars not insured by Bul Ins are considered fair game. Intergroup also controls UNION INSURANCE.
¶D. (C) MULTIGRUP (also known as Multigroup and MG)  MG’s founder and president, ILIYA PAVLOV (Bulgarian-born, naturalized American citizen born 6 August 1960) was shot dead in Sofia on 7 March 2003. Once the largest organized crime group in Bulgaria, Pavlov started to move MG into legitimate businesses, comprised of hundreds of subsidiary companies with interests in natural resources and mining, finance, tourism, manufacturing, and food commodities. In 2001, Pavlov and his deputy, BOYANA GEORGIEVA POPOVA (Bulgarian citizen born 17 October 1960) established MG ASSET MANAGEMENT COMPANY (MG AM) to take over all of MG’s assets and adopt a legitimate, internationally-acceptable management structure. MG AM’s parent company, MG VENTURES (registered and headquartered in Delaware) was owned in equal parts by Pavlov and Popova. Following Pavlov’s murder, Popova became the group’s CEO and Pavlov’s 50 percent stake in MG Ventures was transferred to his widow, DARINA PAVLOVA (Bulgarian-born, naturalized American citizen), and children through the Pavlovi Trust.  Pavlov’s father, PAVEL NAYDENOV (Bulgarian citizen born 16 June 1936), was once very active in MG’s management. However, following his son’s death and subsequent disputes with Popova and Pavlova, Naydenov resigned from his positions in MG and set up his own holding company, KREPOST 2002. In 2004, Popova announced that MG would start selling a large number of its assets in order to focus primarily on investment projects and tourism. There were also reports that Popova preferred to re-direct the group’s efforts from the Balkans to U.S.-based activities. While MG’s activities in the Balkans have significantly declined, one of its highest profile subsidiaries remains BALKANTOURIST, the largest tour operator in Bulgaria, catering especially to tourists from Western Europe.  DIMITAR HRISTOV IVANOV (Bulgarian citizen born 19 April 1951) was the president of MG’s first subsidiary (MULTIART) in the early 1990s before becoming a vice president of MG under Pavlov. Since leaving MG, Ivanov is now the director of EVROPA HOLDINGS.  Another former MG employee, SASHO GEORGIEV DONCHEV (Bulgarian citizen born 7 September 1953), is the executive director of OVERGAS (also known as OVERGAZ). Overgas was established in 1992 as a joint venture between MG and the Russian state-owned GAZPROM; the company quickly became the largest private importer and provider of natural gas in Bulgaria. Overgas is also involved in constructing and managing gas pipelines and other infrastructure. The company has links to VAI HOLDINGS through JUPITER INSURANCE, of which Overgas has a 35 percent stake; Jupiter’s activities include insurance for financial risk, cargo, and gas pipelines. YURI VYAKHIREV, the son of a former Gazprom director, REM VYAKHIREV, is a close associate of Donchev and also a partner in Overgas.
¶E. (C) UNION OF FORMER COMMANDOS (also known as SPARTAK)  ALEXEI ILIEV PETROV (Bulgarian citizen born 23 April 1962) is a former officer in the elite special unit for combating terrorism. He and his grouping of former military commandos (also known as “berets”) are most actively involved in the insurance sector through LEVSKI SPARTAK INSURANCE (previously known as “APOLLO & BOLKAN” and “SPARTAK”). Petrov also owns the largest taxi company in Sofia, TAXI S EXPRESS, which has more than 3500 cars. It is believed that Petrov’s involvement in Taxi S Express, Levski Spartak, and other companies bearing the Spartak name have been disguised as Israeli investment; Petrov is closely linked to former Israeli ambassador to Sofia, DAVID KOEN. Another member of the group, ZLATOMIR IVANOV (Bulgarian citizen, also known as “THE BERET”) was a former director of APOLLO & BOLKAN and is currently director of ARKUS SECURITY. Ivanov oversees the group’s smuggling, extortion, and racketeering activities, among other illegal activities.  The group is thought to have the largest share in Sofia’s escort and intimate services businesses, which are used as fronts for prostitution and trafficking in women for sexual exploitation.
¶F. (C) NOVE HOLDINGS  VASIL KRUMOV BOZHKOV (Bulgarian citizen born 29 July 1956, also known as “THE SKULL”) founded his first company in 1990, before expanding to his current business empire, NOVE HOLDINGS, comprising over 30 companies and numerous subsidiaries. NOVE’s primary legal business interests include gambling (bingo halls, casinos, and the popular EUROFOOTBALL lottery) and duty free shops. Bozhkov also owns the CSKA soccer team in Sofia and the J MODELS modeling agency. He is also believed to control RISK ENGINEERING, which was originally part of the MG empire. Bozhkov’s numerous media connections include TOSHO TOSHEV (chief editor and managing director of TRUD, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Bulgaria), KEVORK KEVORKIAN (popular television show host on state-owned BNT), and RADOSVET RADEV (owner of DARIK RADIO).  In 2002, NOVE sold the majority share of Eurofootball lottery to the Greek billionaire SOKRATIS KOKALIS, reducing the holding’s share to 49 percent. Bozhkov publicly thanked prominent businessman SPAS RUSEV for facilitating the deal. Rusev is closely linked to the NMSS; as a close friend and personal advisor of Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Rusev is credited with putting together the NMSS economic team, including Milen Velchev (Finance Minister) and Nikolai Vassilev (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transportation).  NOVE’s casinos include the LONDON CASINO at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Sofia and the RILA CASINO at the Rila Hotel, also in Sofia. Bozhkov is thought to control the Rila Hotel, both through IRENA MARINOVA (director of the hotel’s owner, RIEL 99, and board member of the hotel’s management company), and through ANTONI NAUMOV (director of the hotel’s management company). Marinova is also a shareholder in BUL INS (see INTERGROUP), along with Bozhkov (through NOVE). Naumov and Bozhkov are partners in several companies, including CSKA basketball team. Bozhkov has used his influence to block the transfer of the approximately 49 percent of the Rila Hotel, subject of long-running property restitution case, claimed by Bulgaria’s Jewish community.  Bozhkov’s illegal activities include money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, and extortion and racketeering. Bozhkov is also connected to INTERGROUP (through the company IGM, which he owns jointly with MLADEN MIHALEV, and NOVE’s shares in BUL INS) and to IVAN TODOROV (see INTERGROUP and AMIGOS).
¶G. (C) DZI (formerly Rosexim Bank)  EMIL ALEXANDROV KYULEV (Bulgarian citizen born 5 June 1957) made his fortune through Tourist Sports Bank (also known as TS Bank), which went bankrupt under his leadership. In 1995,  SIPDIS he founded the BULGARIAN-RUSSIAN INVESTMENT BANK (also known as BRI BANK), and, after leaving BRI Bank in 1997, Kyulev joined the board of directors of BULSTRAD INSURANCE. In 1998, Kyulev bought the Plovdiv-based Trakia Bank, which he re-registered as ROSEXIM BANK. Rosexim Bank’s largest client is the Bulgarian government, which channels all tax, customs, and excise payments through the bank. The bank also provides financial services to Russia’s LUKOIL and MOBILTEL (the largest mobile telephone operator in Bulgaria, also known as MTEL). In addition to Kyulev’s connections to MICHAEL CHORNY (see RUSSIAN INFLUENCE) through MTEL, TODOR BATKOV (Michael Chorny’s lawyer and personal representative), served on Rosexim Bank’s board of directors until 2003.  In 2004, Rosexim Bank was renamed DZI BANK, finalizing the merger between Rosexim Bank and DZI, the former state-owned insurance company, which Kyulev acquired in 2002.  Kyulev’s criminal activities include fraud and money laundering.  Kyulev has recently employed a U.S. lobby group and public relations agency to clean up and manage his image. As part of his campaign to gain credibility and legitimacy, he has also recently established the DZI Foundation to combat human trafficking; Kyulev is suspected of using the foundation as a channel to launder money.
¶H. (C) LITEX COMMERCE  Again a former wrestler and current member of the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation, GRISHNA DANAELOV[2] GANCHEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1962) owns a chain of gas stations and is one of the top three petroleum importers in Bulgaria. His company, LITEX COMMERCE, also owns the QUEEN brand of fruit juices. Ganchev was one of the first organized crime leaders to use a sports team to launder money, through the LITEX soccer team in Lovech. Litex also owns the Lovech-based VINAL winery, which produces wine for domestic consumption and export to Europe, as well as vodka for export.  Litex’s illegal activities include petroleum smuggling, financial fraud and money laundering, and extortion and racketeering.
¶I. (C) MIG GROUP (also known as COOL PASS[3])  The MIG GROUP, headed by SLAVCHO PENCHEV BINEV (Bulgarian citizen born 10 December 1965, also known as “SLAVY”), owns more than 30 nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in Sofia, including the popular nightclubs BIAD, DALI, and BIBLIOTEKA. GEORGI STOYANOV (Bulgarian citizen) and MIHAIL STEFANOV (Bulgarian citizen) are “Slavy” Binev’s two deputies. The group’s business interests also include construction and tourism; it operates a travel agency as part of its COOL PLACE entertainment complex.  The group’s criminal activities include prostitution, narcotics, and trafficking stolen automobiles.
¶J. (C) AMIGOS  IVAN TODOROV (Bulgarian citizen born 27 December 1964, also known as “THE DOCTOR”) is no longer part of Amigos but still maintains close ties to group, especially for money laundering and other financial services. PETAR HRISTOV PETROV (Bulgarian citizen born 15 September 1969), a cousin of MLADEN MIHALEV (see INTERGROUP), is a close associate of Todorov, and is also actively involved in money laundering and other financial crimes.
¶K. (C) VUZRAZHDANE BUSINESS CLUB  VUZRAZHDANE Business Club was founded in 2001 jointly by VASIL BOZHKOV (see NOVE HOLDINGS), EMIL KYULEV (see DZI), ILIYA PAVLOV (see MULTIGRUP), BORISLAV DIONISIEV, DOBROMIR GUSHTEROV, PETIO BLASKEV[4] (owner of the weekly newspaper 168 HOURS), TOSHO TOSHEV (chief editor and managing director of TRUD, the largest-circulation daily newspaper in Bulgaria), and RADOSVET RADEV (owner of DARIK RADIO). With Pavlov’s death in 2003, and the departure of Gushterov and Dionosiev in 2004, the business club does not maintain the same importance it once did, but it still serves as a forum for cooperation between a number of economic interests.  Gushterov, the owner of OREL G insurance company, and Dionisiev left the club in 2004 when Gushterov and PETAR MANDJUKOV founded a rival club of entrepreneurs, also called Vuzrazhdane. Mandjukov, an arms trader, owns PM GROUP, the parent company of INFOMEDIA, PM PRESS (the publisher of the Socialist daily newspaper DUMA), and BALKAN BULGARIAN TELEVISION (BBT). MACHINEXPORT, a company owned by Mandjukov and Dionisiev, was named in the Duelfer Report for its connections to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.
¶L. (C) RUSSIAN INFLUENCE  Russia continues to exercise significant influence over the Bulgarian economy through energy imports, including crude oil, natural gas and nuclear fuel. When Bulgaria’s only retail gas distributor, PETROL AD, was privatized, it came under the control of Russian businessman DENIS ERSHOV. ERSHOV was banned from entering Bulgaria in August 2000, having been cited as a threat to the country’s national security; however the ban was lifted in 2004 on Ershov’s appeal. Ershov, once vice president of one of the biggest exporters of Russian crude oil, established the NAFTEX group in 1991, of which PETROL AD became a part. Ershov was a member of the NAFTEX BULGARIA HOLDING (now PETROL HOLDING), and is a member of the PETROL AD Supervisory Board.  Despite the fact that he is no longer the owner of Bulgarian telephone operator MOBILTEL (MTEL), Russian mobster MICHAEL CHORNY is thought to retain influence over the company through his ties to members of Austrian Mobiltel Holding. Acquired from Chorny by Austrian Mobiltel Holding and Austrian Bank BAWAG in 2002, MTEL was sold in July 2004 in the largest-ever leveraged buy-out in Central and Eastern Europe. The takeover was engineered through the Bulgarian joint stock company BIDCO. BIDCO shares the same office building with Chorny’s lawyer, TODOR BATKOV, who is still a member of MTEL’s board. Batkov and other representatives of Chorny allegedly put pressure on the Bulgarian Government to delay the issuing of the third GSM license to BTC in July 2004. Indeed, the Supreme Administrative Court decided 15 July 15 2004 to postpone the launch of the BTC GSM license. The court decision suggests that Chorny is still in control of MTEL, as the judge presiding over the Supreme Administrative Court panel for the BTC case also revoked the Government’s decision banning Chorny from entering the country. In addition, Chorny has connections to EMIL KYULEV (see DZI) through his interests in DZI BANK (formerly Rosexim Bank), which is owned by Kyulev. Todor Batkov served on Rosexim’s board of directors until 2003. CHORNY has also maintained influence over a number of companies by transferring ownership to Batkov. These entities include the LEVSKI football team, STANDARDT newspaper, and BANKYA PALACE hotel.  LUKOIL’s representative in Bulgaria is VALENTIN ZLATEV. The Russian petroleum company is estimated to be the largest corporate taxpayer in Bulgaria. It also controls Russian oil exports to Bulgaria. Lukoil’s Bulgarian operations, through Zlatev, are suspected of strong ties to Russian intelligence and organized crime.
¶M. (C) AKB CORPORATION. The AKB CORPORATION, headed by NIKOLAI YORDANOV BANEV (Bulgarian citizen born 16 August 1959), was involved mainly in privatizing state-owned industries. Its primary illegal activities include privatization fraud and corruption.
—————————————-  POLITICS: THE NEXUS WITH ORGANIZED CRIME —————————————-
¶8. (C) Organized crime has a corrupting influence on all Bulgarian institutions, including the government, parliament and judiciary. In an attempt to maintain their influence regardless of who is in power, OC figures donate to all the major political parties. As these figures have expanded into legitimate businesses, they have attempted — with some success — to buy their way into the corridors of power. During the 2001 general elections, a number of influential “businessmen,” including VASIL BOZHKOV and EMIL KYULEV, heavily financed and otherwise supported the NMSS campaign. At the beginning of his term in office in 2001, Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha held a high-profile meeting with members of Vuzrazhdane in which he invited Iliya Pavlov, Vasil Bozhkov, et al, to become part of a “business consultative council” advising the government. Later that year, Kyulev helped finance the successful presidential campaign of BSP leader Georgi Purvanov.
¶9. (C) Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the government’s junior coalition partner, attended Iliya Pavlov’s funeral in 2003, making no attempt to conceal his close relationship with the slain Multigrup chairman. During the 2005 election campaign, business interests with connections to OC (including LUKOIL and Sasho Donchev’s OVERGAS), Bozhkov, Kyulev, and others spread their support and money across the political spectrum, focusing primarily on the NMSS and the BSP, in an effort to ensure that their interests were protected whatever the outcome of the vote.
¶10. (C) Below the level of the national government and the leadership of the major political parties, OC “owns” a number of municipalities and individual members of parliament. This direct participation in politics — as opposed to bribery — is a relatively new development for Bulgarian OC. DOBROMIR GUSHTEROV, a founding member of Vuzrazhdane a major BSP sponsor, won a seat in parliament on the BSP ticket this year. Gushterov’s was one of several “insurance” companies engaged in extortion and racketeering in the years immediately following the collapse of communism. At the municipal level, a by-election earlier this year in the town of Svilingrad, on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, resulted in the complete takeover of the municipal government by figures who have made little attempt to conceal their links to powerful smuggling interests. Similarly in the regional center of Velingrad, OC figures control the municipal council and the mayor’s office. Nearly identical scenarios have played out in half a dozen smaller towns and villages across Bulgaria.
——- COMMENT ——-
¶11. (C) Despite continuing pressure from the U.S. and the EU, past Bulgarian governments have done little to reduce the presence of organized crime. As a result, OC has increased its influence and is able to operate with virtual impunity. The Bulgarian public recognizes OC’s corrupting influence, and people are clearly frustrated by the government’s inability or unwillingness to deal with the problem. We continue to provide technical assistance to reform-minded elements of the Bulgarian government and judiciary — and to speak out on the need to fight corruption and organized crime — but real political leverage on this issue lies with the EU. A delay in Bulgaria’s accession would be politically disastrous for the incoming government. If the EU uses this leverage to demand not only far-reaching judicial reform but effective implementation as well, there is reason to hope that the tide will slowly begin to turn against organized crime in the coming years.
PARDEW

BRITISH ACADEMY, ROYAL SOCIETY BACK BULGARIAN TOP SCI BODY AMID ATTACKS

The presidents of UK’s leading research institutions are among those who have sent letters of support to the Bulgarian Academy of Science, which has been facing extreme budget cuts and likely closure forced from the government.

Sir Adam Roberts, President of the British Academy – UK’s leading center for humanities and social sciences – has sent out an official letter to senior Bulgarian officials, including PM Boyko Borisov, in which he calls for a strong committment on the part of the state for science and research.

“It is a striking fact that in these very difficult economic times, many countries are making investment in knowledge and research a priority, and are even increasing their investment at a time of cuts elsewhere. They do so because they know that research contributes to innovation and economic growth, and helps build social stability,” writes Sir Roberts.

The letter concludes asking senior Bulgarian officials to “reconsider the cuts to a vital part of Bulgarian national life and of the Bulgarian economy.”

Lord Martin Rees of Ludlow, President of the UK Royal Society – one of the oldest and most prestigious research institutions in the world – has on his part sent a letter of support to the BAS President Nikola Sabotinov, expressing his “concern” at Bulgarian budget cuts for research, calling that science be “at the heart of European countries’ plans for future prosperity.”

Lord Rees of Ludlow has asked Sabotinov to forward his letter to all Bulgarian senior officials he is in contact with.

He further states that the Royal Society is “proud of its links with BAS” and speaks highly of the Academy’s plans for development and already instituted reforms.

The presidents of Britain’s top research institutions are just some of the international research leaders who have already sent out letters in support of BAS.

The messages include a strong-worded letter to PM Borisov from Prof. Jüri Engelbrecht – President of ALLEA, the umbrella organization of Europe’s science academies.

Further letters of support have been sent out by the presidents of the Serbian and Turkish of science, as well as by a number of Bulgarian researchers working abroad.

In the meanwhile, the Bulgarian Parliament is set to review Wednesday a controversial legislative amendment which envisions dismantling BAS into separate institutes under the direct jurisdiction of the Minister of Education and the Council of Ministers.

novinite.com

BULGARIAN GOVT STRIKES TO DEMOLISH TOP RESEARCH INSTITUTION

Authorities have taken up specific measures to make possible demolishing the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences with an urgent legislative amendment currently under review by Parliament.

This development comes after November 15 Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov and Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva announced the Academy of Sciences (BAS) will be split into self-standing institutes and its central organs abolished.

Researchers alarmed that would mean an end to the Academy, and went out on a string of protests, after which PM Borisov and Minister of Education Sergei Ignatov announced that they have no plans whatsoever to demolish Bulgaria’s oldest science institution.

Nevertheless, last Thursday Rumen Stoilov, a back-bench MP from the ruling GERB party, tabled a legislative amendment to the Law on BAS which mandates precisely the splitting of the academy into self-standing institutes and the founding of a separate, largely ceremonial body of academicians.

The Parliamentary Education and Research Committee has deemed it worthwhile to urgently vote on the legislative proposal and has included it into its Wednesday agenda.

What is most alarming, the amendment forsees that the newly-created institutes would be under the direct jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and will be subject to merging or closing down by the Council of Ministers at the proposal of the education minister.

This would expressly eliminate BAS as a self-standing entity and will put in the hands of the central goverment the power to eliminate institutes at will – something that BAS researchers have been consistently alarming against.

Thus, although the letter of the legislative amendment is consistent with the statement that BAS will not be shut down, the new law would put all its units at the self-willed mercy of a government that has proven hostile not only to investment in research and education, but also to the Academy as an institution.

Researchers have claimed that in particular the government wants not only to disburden itself from the need to sponsor science and research, but what is more – to lay hands on BAS’s many properties.

Bulgarian Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov is a self-confessed BAS-hater. What is more, in interviews he has given to the Bulgarian press before assuming office, he has suggested the idea of selling out BAS’s assets, even mentioning specific figures of their worth.

BAS researchers and leadership have alarmed that Djankov has already effected the dismantling of the Georgian Academy of Science during his stint as a World Bank expert in the country.

They have protested the bill for amendment of the Law on BAS and have called a fresh protest Wednesday.

novinite.com

EU launches antitrust probe into alleged Google abuses

November 30, 2010 1 comment

The European Commission has launched an investigation into Google after other search engines complained that the firm had abused its dominant position.

The EC will examine whether the world’s largest search engine penalised competing services in its results.

The probe follows complaints by firms including price comparison site Foundem and legal search engine ejustice.fr.

Google denies the allegations but said it would work with the Commission to “address any concerns”.

Earlier this year the attorney general of Texas launched a similar investigation following complaints from firms including Foundem.

The objections in both cases are from competitors which allege that Google manipulates its search results.

“The European Commission has decided to open an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google has abused a dominant position in online search,” the body said in a statement.

It said the action followed “complaints by search service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.”

The Commission’s investigation does not imply any wrongdoing by Google.

“Since we started, Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry,” said the firm in a statement.

“But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.”

Core business

Google offers two types of search result – unpaid results produced by the firm’s algorithms that are displayed in the main body of the page and “ads”, previously called sponsored links.

The investigation will try to determine whether the firm’s method of generating unpaid results adversely affects the ranking of other firms, specifically those providing so-called vertical search services.

These are specialist search providers, and can include sites that offer price comparison, for example.

Foundem alleges that Google’s algorithms “remove legitimate sites from [its] natural search results, irrespective of relevance”. It also says that the firm promotes its own services over those offered by competitors.

“Google is exploiting its dominance of search in ways that stifle innovation, suppress competition, and erode consumer choice,” Foundem said in its complaint filed in February 2010.

But Google argues that there are “compelling reasons” why these sites are “ranked poorly”.

For example, it said, Foundem “duplicates 79% of its website content from other sites.”

“We have consistently informed webmasters that our algorithms disadvantage duplicate sites,” the firm said.

The Commission will also look into allegations that Google manipulated elements of its system that determine the price paid for ads from these sites.

Finally, the investigation will also probe how the company deals with advertising partners.

Advertising is the core of Google’s business.

Google is alleged to impose “exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors,” according to an EC statement.

In addition, the EC said it would also look into “suspected restrictions on the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.”

Google says it already allows customers “to take their data with them when they switch services” and that its contracts “have never been exclusive”.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11876443