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IRB head to visit Fiji

SUVA, January 27- The head of world rugby's governing body will visit Fiji next month as corruption allegations threaten to derail the Pacific nation's preparations for this year's World Cup.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) said chief executive Mike Miller would travel to Fiji in February after visiting New Zealand to inspect World Cup venues.

Miller’s Pacific trip comes amid a row between the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) and the country’s military regime over an official investigation that found the FRU mismanaged a fundraising lottery.

The government threatened to withhold three million Fiji dollars ($1.6 million) in World Cup funding unless the FRU board quit in the wake of the probe, prompting concerns it was interfering in the sport’s administration.

The IRB said Miller’s trip was an opportunity to meet senior FRU figures and conduct a fact-finding mission.

"The IRB does have concerns that the current situation could create instability and have a negative impact on the management of the union and key IRB-funded development and high performance programmes, and also Rugby World Cup 2011 preparations," it said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

The FRU board had offered to resign earlier this month but chairman Rafaele Kasibulu said in a statement that no changes would be made until after Miller’s visit.

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

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

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.

The FRU has denied any wrongdoing.

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