Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has been banned from holding office for 15 years by the nation's comptroller. If enforced, it would bar him from challenging President Nicolas Maduro at the polls next year.
The Venezuelan state comptroller's office, which can sanction politicians for misusing state resources, said Capriles had 15 days to appeal its decision or 180 days to appeal to the crisis-torn nation's top court.
It accused Capriles of "administrative irregularities" in his role as governor of Miranda state, including improper handling of donations from the British and Polish embassies, both of which declined comment.
The comptroller's "disqualification," if confirmed, would stop Capriles (pictured above) from running again for president as he did in 2013, when he almost defeated the leftist Maduro.
In recent days, Venezuelan authorities had accused Capriles of fomenting violence while leading protests against Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late Hugo Chavez.
Opposition politicians targeted
More than 100 dissidents are currently imprisoned, including Leopoldo Lopez, another key opposition figure, who was also barred from office in 2008 and jailed in 2014 amid violent protests.
Maduro's government, which has held onto power despite brutal economic recession, claims that a US-based business elite is to blame for the downturn.
On Friday, Venezuelan officials confirmed that a 19-year-old student, who had been planning to emigrate, was shot dead during demonstrations on Thursday in a low-income Caracas suburb.
During a pro-government rally on Thursday, Socialist Party official Freddy Bernal accused Capriles of "trying to ignite the country."
Capriles called for an opposition protest on Saturday and replied in a Tweet: "I'm still here and still your governor, we got here through votes and only the people decide."
The opposition protests were touched off by a Supreme Court ruling - subsequently withdrawn - that would have nullified Venezuela's congress.
Those protests have revived fears of broader unrest in Venezuela, where 43 people were killed during riots in 2014. The country has undergone three attempted military coups since 1992.
ipj/kl (AP, Reuters, AFP)