Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he was invited to join the nation's top political advisory body, but felt it "inappropriate" to accept while he was being investigated by graft-busters.
Tsang was denied the opportunity to follow the steps of his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, by becoming a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
In a rare gesture, the government issued a statement yesterday on behalf of the Office of Former Chief Executives, as Tsang spoke for the first time about the appointments, which have not been announced publicly.
"After I had left my position as chief executive, the central government approached me and inquired whether I intended to participate in the work of the new session of the CPPCC," he said.
"I considered the proposition thoroughly and subsequently replied that it would be inappropriate for me to join the CPPCC at a senior level while relevant investigations of the ICAC were apparently still ongoing. Other opportunities will exist for me to make contributions to my country and to serve Hong Kong after the relevant investigations have been completed."
The Independent Commission Against Corruption stepped up its investigation of Tsang last February.
The move came after he was accused of accepting advantages in connection with overseas trips and a bargain retirement penthouse deal over the border.
But some Beijing loyalists believed Tsang's remarks did not reflect the whole picture.
Ng Hong-mun, a former local deputy to the National People's Congress, said the central government did not want to set a precedent of retired Hong Kong and Macau chief executives gaining a position in the leadership.
Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said Tsang wanted to convey a message that it was not Beijing that removed him from the list.