In the process of deciding whether to prosecute former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung over the so-called Cargate scandal, the key public interest concerns were the need to avoid a conflict of interest and to stick to established prosecution policy, regardless of political pressure. On the face of it, the government satisfied these requirements. Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie, a former colleague of Mr Leung's and a fellow political appointee within the chief executive's ministerial system, has distanced herself from the decision-making. Advice was sought from independent counsel. Further, the department has made an unprecedented move in revealing to the public the reasoning and process through which it arrived at its decision not to prosecute. Mr Leung, who resigned in July after many months of controversy, bought a new Lexus just weeks before delivering a budget that raised the registration tax on new vehicles. The picture that emerges from the Department of Justice's statement is one characterised more by political ineptitude than by criminal liability. Mr Leung, the department's timeline points out, had conversations involving the budget and the registration tax in the months before and the weeks after the purchase - during which he failed to disclose his potential conflict of interest. This included a March 5 Executive Council meeting at which other officials declared their recent purchases, but at which Mr Leung said nothing about his in late January. He was to deliver his speech on new revenue-raising measures that day. Three days later media reports revealed he had saved $190,000 by buying his car when he did. The conclusion that Mr Leung may have been negligent but that wilful intention to avoid the higher tax cannot be proven is sure to disappoint those who view his missteps as grave. Some believe that on the face of it, Mr Leung had ample opportunity to notice and to admit his conflict of interest, if not to avoid it. In order to bring a case against Mr Leung, argued Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross, there had to be 'at least a reasonable prospect' that the government would secure a conviction by proving Mr Leung's criminal intent. The advice was that this would be very difficult. Now that the justifications for the decision have been released, the public has a chance to decide for itself whether it was fair. Legal experts and lay people alike will now be able to have their say, after months of silence on the subject from the department. Whatever the conclusions, the government has to be commended for its efforts to make public the details of the legal process and to diminish the possibility that political considerations would enter into the final decision. Here, though, we must enter a note of disquiet. Although the two legal opinions released yesterday are clear, we reported in November that the department had sought advice from a number of lawyers - not just two. The department had a chance to deny the story before it was published, and did not do so. It then issued a limp denial after publication. Mr Cross denied it yesterday but he clearly did not want to dwell on the issue. That said, the release of the advice gives the public and the government a chance to assess the lessons to be learned from the scandal. Mr Leung, once a rising political star, has already paid a high price: he has lost his job and faced public humiliation. His boss, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, has also lost credibility. Most importantly, Hong Kong politicians have seen that the public expects a high standard of conduct and integrity from officials and representatives. Legal issues aside, the questions of accountability, honesty and transparency raised by this episode are of abiding concern.