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Malawi leader orders probe into Zambia maize deal

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi's President Peter Mutharika ordered an investigation on Tuesday into a $34.5 million government maize purchase from Zambia after allegations that the price had been inflated.

Zambian opposition leader Saviour Chishimba said last month he had seen documents showing Malawi had been charged $345 per tonne for 100,000 tonnes of Zambian white maize worth $215 a tonne.

Malawi is importing the maize to ease food shortages affecting an estimated 6.7 million people, triggered by the severe drought that swept the region in 2016.

Some senior Malawi government officials have said the price was higher because a transport and logistics company had to be hired to move the maize between the neighboring countries.

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In a statement from the office of the president and cabinet, Mutharika ordered an urgent probe into the deal.

"We need to get to the bottom of this and bring to the people nothing but the truth," Mutharika said.

"This investigation starts immediately and will report its findings by January 31, 2017," he said.

Only 4,000 tonnes of maize have so far been moved from Zambia, according to state officials.

Mutharika has suspended the chief executive of ADMARC, the government-owned grain trader involved in the deal, pending the investigation.

(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by Adrian Croft)