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Convicted hedge fund boss wins support in Sri Lanka

[AFP, Friday, 13 May 2011 10:04 No Comment]

The conviction of disgraced hedge fund magnate Raj Rajaratnam was greeted with dismay Thursday by people who had benefited from his charitable largesse in his native Sri Lanka.

Rajaratnam, who founded the Galleon Group hedge fund, was found guilty Wednesday by a US court on all counts of fraud and conspiracy in Wall Street’s biggest insider trading trial for years.

But for many in Sri Lanka, he is best remembered for using his wealth to build thousands of homes for victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

"I’m devastated and disappointed that Mr. Rajaratnam now faces spending the rest of his life in jail," said retired post master Upasiri Sumanaratne, a resident of the Galleon Housing Scheme in Rathgama, just south of Colombo.

Rajaratnam may have had his faults, but Sumanaratne said the Sri Lankan-born billionaire was a "living Buddha" to many people in his neighbourhood.

W. Ariyapala, a carpenter and fellow Galleon housing resident said he would pray for Rajaratnam and his family and lobby to have a street named after him.

"That’s the best way to remember a living legend," Ariyapala told AFP by telephone.

Rajaratnam, who spent his childhood years in Sri Lanka is a member of the island’s Tamil minority, and some hawks in the government establishment had suspected him of funding the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist group.

At the time of Rajaratnam’s arrest in 2009, the then foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, had described him as "an LTTE fund-raiser and an activist in LTTE transactions."

Rajaratnam had always denied the allegations and a Central Bank inquiry concluded there was no evidence that he provided material support to the Tamil Tigers.

During his trial in New York, Rajaratnam liquidated his investments in Sri Lanka, including large sums in the Colombo Stock Exchange.

"I feel very sad to hear the news about Raj," said Murtaza Jafferjee, chief executive of JB Securities, a private brokerage that used to manage Rajaratnam’s investments in Sri Lanka.

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