Fiji board to step down

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SUVA, January 14- The entire Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) board will resign to defuse a row with the country's military regime that threatened funding for the Rugby World Cup, Sports Minister Filip Bole said Friday,The government had threatened to withhold three million Fiji dollars ($1.6 million) in grants for this year’s World Cup unless the board quit following an official probe that found the FRU mismanaged a fundraising lottery.

Bole, whose government seized power in a bloodless 2006 coup, said the board agreed to step down at a meeting Thursday and the FRU would elect new officials at the end of February.

In a statement posted on the government website Friday, he said funding for Fiji’s campaign at the World Cup in New Zealand could now be released.

"The decision will also allow government and the new FRU administration to determine a programme of the three million Fiji dollars government grant in a timely fashion for the purpose of preparing the Flying Fijians for the Rugby World Cup," he added.

FRU interim chairman Rafaele Kasibulu said in the statement that the board had resigned "for the betterment of the rugby, the rugby house and the people of Fiji".

The row centres on a lottery the FRU drew in late December, which Fiji’s Commerce Commission found had been improperly run.

The consumer watchdog found more than 155,000 of the 350,000 Fiji dollars raised in the lottery was missing and funds were used for improper purposes, including sending an FRU official to the Hong Kong Sevens in March last year.

In a report released Tuesday, it recommended criminal prosecutions against those responsible for misusing the money, a re-draw of the lottery and said it would seek to impose fines totalling 125,000 Fiji dollars on the FRU.

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