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Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), who is leading the present legislative processes on bottling laws, received campaign contributions for last year's Likud primaries from two soft drink industry executives.

During the period of the primaries, Erdan was the chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee and dealt with laws dealing with drinks and bottling, including the deposit law on bottles and a proposed packaging law.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) says the contributions cast a serious pall over the agreements Erdan recently reached with soft drink manufacturers.

Erdan recently informed his ministry's legal staff of the contributions from people connected to the companies, and Erdan has received a legal opinion from those authorities and from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that he has no conflicts of interest.

The state comptroller's report on contributions for party primaries released a few months ago showed Erdan received the maximum donation, NIS 10,000, from Yoav Nahshon, the vice president of finance for the Central Bottling Company (Coca Cola Israel). Erdan also received a NIS 5,000 contribution from another person who is a director of the Neviot bottled water company. Both contributions were legal and reported as required.

The Economic Affairs Committee and the Environmental Protection Ministry have both been working on the two laws over the past few years. One is an amendment to the existing deposit law for drink containers, which in its original format included extending the deposit law to bottles one and a half liters and larger. The proposed change met stiff opposition from drink manufacturers.

The other law would mandate the collection and recycling of packaging by manufacturers, including soft drink producers. The drink manufacturers support this bill as an alternative to the new deposit law.

The Economic Affairs Committee under Erdan never finished preparing the proposed changes to the deposit law. At one of the meetings Erdan said: "The committee will not let the government pull a fast one on a matter of such great importance." He also said that the committee had been presented with alternatives that did not require raising the price of drinks. After being appointed as environmental protection minister, Erdan adopted the policy of his predecessor, Gideon Ezra, and reached an agreement with drink manufacturers that did not include deposits on large bottles. In return the companies agreed to collect half the large bottles on a voluntary basis, and committed themselves to supporting the packaging law that includes drink containers.

Erdan's bureau said the contributions were made while Erdan was an MK and there was no way to know he would be appointed a minister. The also said there was no legal reason not to accept such contributions, "as long as they are within the legal limit and are reported properly ... The minister has no personal relationship with the contributors and did not know of any connection between them and the deposit law. As for Mr. Nahshon, the minister was only informed of the connection a few weeks ago, and as to the other contributor he was informed only as a result of Haaretz's question. As soon as he learned that among his contributors were people connected to the drinks sector, he asked his ministry's legal advisor and the legal advisor of the State Comptroller's Office [for advice] and it was made clear by them that there is no suspicion of conflict of interest in this situation, and this position was approved by the deputy attorney general."

Nahshon said his contribution was not connected to Erdan's involvement in the legislative process concerning the bills. He said they were made legally as a private citizen and not connected to the company he works for. Nahshon said that when he made the contribution he did not know Likud would take power and certainly not that Erdan would be appointed environmental affairs minister.