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Candy tycoon kidnapped naked from bath

TOKYO -- Police today searched central Japan for two gunmen who kidnapped a candy tycoon from his bath, hustled him naked into a getaway car and demanded $4.5 million in cash and 100 kilograms of gold as ransom.

More than 300 officers and 40 patrol cars were mobilized and checkpoints set up on major highways near Osaka in an intensive hunt for Katsuhisa Ezaki, 42, president of the Ezaki Glico Co., a well-known candy and ice cream manufacturer.

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Police, expressing fear the ski-masked gunmen would kill the executive, imposed an information blackout and ordered news organizations not to report on the abduction in Japan.

The kidnappers -- one armed with a pistol and the other brandishing an air gun -- Sunday about 9 p.m. (7 a.m. EST) broke into Ezaki's 70-year-old mother's residence, located next to the businessman's home in the western Japanese city Hyogo near Osaka.

The pair forced the elderly woman, Yoshie, to turn over the keys to the main house.

The gunmen, wearing white ski masks and black jumpers, burst into the main house and confronted Ezaki's wife, Meiko, 35, and the couple's daughter, Mariko, 8. They tied up Mrs. Ezaki and the little girl and locked them in a bathroom.

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The gunmen then crashed in on Ezaki, who was taking a bath, and forced the naked executive at gunpoint into the waiting car.

Two other children, a son, Etsuro, 11, and another daughter, Yuriko, 4, were asleep in another room and left undisturbed.

Three hours later, a company executive was telephoned by a caller who directed him to a ransom note in a public telephone booth. The note, recovered by police, demanded 1 billion yen, or $4.5 million, and 100 kilograms of gold, police reports said.

The note also warned the family not to notify the police.

Ezaki's 1,600-employee firm, founded by his grandfather in 1922, last year did more than $68 million in sales.

The abduction of the prominent businessman prompted sharp reactions among business leaders. Kidnapping is relatively rare in Japan -- only 27 cases were recorded in 1983 -- and usually involves children.

'This is shocking. I have never dreamed that what has happened in the West is taking place in this country,' said Susumu Furukawa, chairman of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce.

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