Ex-lawmaker Maria Corina Machado, a favorite to win the Venezuelan opposition's nomination for president in an October primary, is barred from holding public office for 15 years, the controller general said in a letter to a lawmaker.
Machado, a 55-year-old industrial engineer, is leading polling for the 13-candidate primary, convened to select a unity candidate to face President Nicolas Maduro in a 2024 election.
A previous ban placed on her has been extended because Machado supported sanctions by the United States on the Maduro government and backed former opposition leader Juan Guaido, the letter said.
Machado has been barred from leaving Venezuela for the last nine years and was previously banned from office for 12 months in 2015 because, according to the controller, she did not include some benefits received when she was a lawmaker in her assets declaration. Machado says she never received the benefits.
Lawmaker Jose Brito, who serves in the ruling party-controlled national assembly, asked the controller this week to clarify the status of the 2015 ban.
"The citizen Maria Corina Machado Parisca ... is inhabilitated from the exercise of any public office for the period of 15 years," the controller said in its response, dated June 27 and shared by Brito on Friday.
Machado, who has proposed privatizing state oil company PDVSA and restructuring Venezuela's debt, told supporters on Thursday that "a ban by the regime is garbage, it means zero," adding it showed the Maduro government "is being defeated."
The ban does not affect Machado's ability to run in the primary because the opposition is holding it without state support, but does mean she could not register with electoral authorities to appear on the ballot in the presidential race.
The opposition has said for years that bans are used by the ruling party to cut off chances for political change in the South American country, whose economy has long been in crisis.
Machado's fellow primary candidate Henrique Capriles, who has twice run for president for the opposition, was barred from public office for 15 years in 2017.
The fractured opposition, which runs a parallel legislature recognized by the U.S. and controls the country's foreign assets, is facing widespread voter apathy and the challenge of holding the primary without state help after the resignation of members of the electoral council.
(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)