(Corrects typo (fund and not found) in first para)
NAIROBI, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund approved a $280 million lending program with Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday, despite criticism by rights groups that it would foster systemic corruption.
The IMF said in a statement that the three-year program was aimed at improving economic and financial stability and at strengthening governance and fighting corruption.
Equatorial Guinea has been condemned for human rights violations and corruption by several organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, who petitioned the IMF not to grant the oil-rich country a loan.
President Teodoro Nguema Obiang, who has ruled the country for forty years, has been under corruption investigations in Switzerland. The investigations led Swiss authorities to seize luxury cars owned by Obiang’s son, who also happens to be vice president.
IMF Deputy Managing Director Tao Zhang said Equatorial Guinea’s economy had been hurt by a decline in oil prices, but that increasing transparency was critical.
“Priority should be given to strengthening the anti-corruption framework by addressing conflict of interests and adopting and enforcing a robust asset declaration regime for senior public officials,” he said.
Equatorial Guinea lacks a legal framework for preventing corruption and holding officials accountable. According to Human Rights Watch, the vice president has frequently defended himself against international money-laundering accusations by arguing Equatorial Guinea has no laws preventing conflicts of interest by senior officials. (Reporting by Omar Mohammed; writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; editing by Larry King)