South Korea ex-president rejects order to give evidence

Seoul - South Korea's disgraced former president Park Geun-hye again refused to testify in the corruption trial of the heir to the Samsung business empire, citing poor health.

For the second time in a fortnight, Park yesterday rejected a court order to give evidence in the case of Lee Jae-yong, the vice-chairman of Samsung Electronics.

Lee is accused of bribery, corruption, perjury and other offences stemming from a wide-ranging scandal that saw Park herself impeached and arrested. Four other Samsung executives have also been charged.

Park, now in the Seoul detention centre and on trial separately, has been complaining of exhaustion and a toe injury that has left her limping slightly.

Defence lawyers said her hectic trial schedule - which forces her to appear in court four days per week for up to 10 hours - coupled with confinement during sultry weather, have taken a toll on her health.

"We visited the accused in the Seoul detention centre this morning to have her testify in court but she, again citing health reasons, refused to comply with the summons," a prosecutor was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

Senior judge Kim Jin-dong said on Tuesday he planned to finish Lee's trial next month. He denies the charges.

Prosecutors will make their sentence demand on Aug 4 and a verdict is likely two weeks after that, a court spokesman said.

The corruption scandal centres on Choi Soon-sil, a former close confidante of Park who is accused of using her close presidential ties to force local firms to "donate" nearly US$70 million (S$95.8 million) to two dubious foundations.

Choi, who allegedly used some of the funds for personal gain, was jailed for three years last month for obstruction of business in connection with her daughter's illicit admission to a Seoul university. She also faces other cases.

Samsung, the world's biggest smartphone maker and South Korea's largest business group with revenues equivalent to about a fifth of the country's GDP, was the single biggest donor to the foundations.

It is also accused of separately giving millions of euros to Choi to bankroll her daughter's equestrian training in Germany.