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Head of cyanide-candy investigation commits suicide

TOKYO -- A police superintendent who commanded the unsuccessful hunt last year for the extortion gang that terrorized Japan with cyanide-spiked candy burned himself to death after being relieved of his post, police said Thursday.

The motive for the suicide was not immediately clear, police said, and there was no definite indication it was linked to his participation in the 'Man with 21 Faces' gang case.

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Police said Shoji Yamamoto, 59, head of the prefectural police in Shiga, western Japan, doused his body with kerosene and burned himself to death in the backyard of his official residence Wednesday afternoon.

Just hours before, police said, Yamamato had been relieved of his post and assigned to the National Police Agency, police said.

His associates said Yamamoto had been embarrassed by an error made by his subordinates in failing to arrest suspects involved in the drama last fall.

Yamamoto apologized to the public after officers under his command came across a car carrying one of the suspects last November but let him slip away.

The extortionist group terrorized the nation by scattering marked cyanide-laced candy manufactured by Morinaga, a leading candy maker, in an attempt to extort $2 million from the company late last year.

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The gang launched its shakedown campaign by kidnapping the president of another major confectioner, Ezaki Glico, in the spring of last year and demanding a ransom of $2 million. The executive escaped unhurt a few days later.

The group remains at large despite a nationwide hunt.

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