Venezuelan opposition leader faces investigation

Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda State governor Henrique Capriles Radonski speaks during a meeting with supporters in Caracas February 17, 2016 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto) (AFP/File)

Caracas (AFP) - The Venezuelan government is investigating the opposition leader heading a campaign to hold a referendum on firing President Nicolas Maduro, officials said.

Henrique Capriles said Monday that the government was seeking revenge for his efforts to have Maduro terminated as president this year. His term ends in 2019.

"They know they've lost popular support, that they don't have the people on their side. That's why they have targeted me this way," the former governor and ex-presidential candidate told reporters.

"It means the government is scared of the referendum on dismissing (Maduro) in a big way.

"We got people out campaigning for the referendum around the country in a hurry," he added.

"And the top level of the government orders me to be investigated."

The Comptroller's Office will investigate budget management in Miranda state -- where Capriles was governor -- in 2011, 2012, and 2013, state officials said in a statement.

"Inspect whatever you like," a defiant Capriles said. "I have nothing to be afraid of."

Maduro narrowly defeated Capriles during a presidential election in 2013.

But the socialist "revolution" championed by Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez is under the mounting pressure of a grinding economic crisis mainly fuelled by low oil prices.

The opposition-controlled National Assembly is trying to eject Maduro from office with the referendum drive and a bill that would declare the president to have abandoned his duties.

However, Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) says he will withstand the churning political waters.

"We have no doubt that in terms of what lies ahead, none of these initiatives will be successful," the PSUV's number-two official Diosdado Cabello told a party meeting.

Venezuela, which has the world's largest known oil reserves, has been practically giving gasoline away at the pump in recent years.

But the economy has seriously suffered from the plunge in world oil prices since mid-2014. The country gets around 96 percent of its foreign currency revenues from oil sales.

Venezuelans are struggling to cope with soaring inflation and shortages of basic goods such as cooking oil and toilet paper.