Wall St villain is hero in tsunami-hit village | business | Hindustan Times
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Wall St villain is hero in tsunami-hit village

Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire financier of Sri Lankan origin facing insider trading charges in the United States, is recalled in stone in one of the villages he helped recover from the Asian tsunami in 2004.

business Updated: Nov 08, 2009 21:29 IST

Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire financier of Sri Lankan origin facing insider trading charges in the United States, is recalled in stone in one of the villages he helped recover from the Asian tsunami in 2004.

A black granite monument honours the “Galleon Housing Scheme”, named after his Galleon Group hedge fund, in this village 112 km south of Colombo.

Some of his most ardent fans want an even more visible tribute to his decision to build 100 new homes after the tsunami that killed 31,000 people in Sri Lanka.

“We will continue to push for the Galleon name on our street,” said retired post-master Upasiri Sumanaratne, 75, a resident of the housing scheme.

“He is our living Buddha. It’s our turn to pray for him in his time of trouble.”

Rajaratnam stands accused of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud in the US, charges he intends to fight.

Rajaratnam, previously little known outside financial circles in New York, is revered by some for his midas touch as one of the biggest investors in Sri Lankan companies. He is a generous donor for humanitarian causes.

While the government has claimed Rajaratnam has raised funds for the Tamil Tigers (he is an ethnic Tamil), others are keen to stress that his support for charities cuts across ethnic lines.

Ajit Gunawardene, deputy chairman of the John Keells Holdings group, of which Rajaratnam is the second biggest shareholder, remembers his reaction to the tsunami disaster in 2004.

“He happened to be here when the tsunami hit us. He was moved by the devastation and gave his own money to build houses,” Gunawardene said. “His only request was to spread the money in the north, east and south.”

The $5 million Rajaratnam donated was spent to build nearly 400 houses for the island's ethnic groups — Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, he said.

Last month, Sri Lanka's justice ministry thanked Rajaratnam for millions of dollars donated to rehabilitate child soldiers conscripted by the Tigers.