The leader of Venezuela's main opposition party has been charged with corruption, in a move his party is says is motivated by Hugo Chavez's desire to silence his opponents.
Manuel Rosales, from the New Times party, was charged on Thursday and could face up to 10 years in prison, the attorney general's office said.
Rosales, the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, has denied the charges as false and told journalists that Chavez, the Venezuelan president, was aiming to "silence all political leaders" in a bid to "stay on as president of the country all his life".
"Today we've come to confront this political lynching that they are trying to do, a terrorist trial, a political trial," he said.
"The only thing missing is for them to investigate me for the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy," he added, referring to the murdered former US president.
Chavez is urging the country's national assembly - currently under his party's control - to draw up a constitutional amendment lifting the current two-term presidential limit and allow unlimited re-election so he can run again.
The proposal was rejected by voters last year in a broader constitutional reform referendum.
Prosecutors said in a statement on Thursday that the charges were based on a 2002 to 2004 investigation into Rosales' conduct when governor of the oil rich Zulia state, when he allegedly registered funds he could not justify to Venezuela's top anti-corruption agency.
Rosales, who lost against Chavez in the nation's 2006 elections, said the investigation was closed for lack of evidence, but that it was "suddenly reopened by orders from above", in reference to Chavez.
However, Jesse Chacon, communications minister, said this week that the charges against Rosales had nothing to do with politics.
The indictment means that Rosales could be unable to run for president in the 2012 election.
A ruling against Rosales could also hurt the opposition after it gained ground in last month's elections for governors and mayors by winning several populous states and the capital, Caracas - although Chavez allies won in most of the country.