Merrill Lynch has hired Ajay Sawhney, previously with ING Bank, as managing director and head of Asia Leveraged Finance Origination, a business which is gaining in prominence in the region.

Sawhney will work with the bankÆs mergers & acquisitions team to come up with financing solutions for acquisitions with a focus on origination and execution of leveraged transactions and leveraged buyout opportunities. He will be in close contact with the investment banking relationship managers and the global leverage finance group.

Based in Singapore, he will also be responsible for senior secured leveraged loans for private equity funds and corporates as well as for the financial sponsors coverage in the region. He will report to MerrillÆs head of Asia origination, Sheldon Trainor.

Sawhney comes most recently from ING Bank, where he was head of leverage finance and financial sponsor coverage with a sector responsibility for telecom and media financing. He resigned from ING in March this year. Aside from spending the past 12 years with the Dutch bank, he has worked more than four years with Citigroup, also in Asia.

Earlier this year, Merrill Lynch arranged a $500 million leveraged financing transaction that enabled Asia AluminumÆs chairman to take the company private. Because of the high debt to EBITDA ratio of 13.3 times achieved through the structured deal, the US investment bank dubbed it ôthe first true leveraged financing transaction in Asia.ö

Asia is the biggest growth market for leveraged buyouts globally, underpinned by the rapid growth of buyouts per se. As of mid-June, the value of Asian buyouts had more than tripled from the same period last year to $22.9 billion, and had already exceeded the $12.5 billion worth of transactions completed in all of 2005, according to Bloomberg data.

Most of the large investment banks and lenders are aggressively expanding their leveraged finance teams to tap into this opportunity.

Sawhney graduated from Texas A&M University with a Masters of Science in Finance.