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Fire strikes Montreal home of an international man of mystery

A firefighter surveys the damage Dec. 3, 2012 after a fire at the Montreal home of businessman Ari Ben-Menashe.

SEAN GORDON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Another mystery has befallen a colourful international lobbyist and occasional arms dealer who has made a habit of collecting them in his professional life.

Sometime around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, an unidentified person heaved a Molotov cocktail through the window of the stylish house occupied by Ari Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who says he worked for the Israeli government prior to getting Canadian citizenship.

According to fire department officials, Mr. Ben-Menashe was home with his wife at the time, although the pair quickly left their semi-detached house as it was engulfed in flames.

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"The fire spread extremely quickly throughout the house," said Richard Bourdeau, the operations director for the Montreal fire department. "We arrived to find a woman in the front yard and a man outside at the rear of the house."

Rigs from two fire stations were called in to fight the blaze, which rapidly gutted the house – the damage was so extensive that arson investigators weren't able to enter the premises for fear of structural collapse.

Police are investigating the blaze as a crime.

Neighbours expressed their surprise – such events are rare in the posh enclave on the edge of Westmount – although none of those interviewed seemed aware of who lives at 3111 rue Jean-Girard.

Although the house is officially registered to a real-estate trust, Mr. Ben-Menashe lives there. It is one of several properties he owns in Montreal; he is said to own several more around the world.

Mr. Ben-Menashe could not be reached for comment.

Murkiness abounds when it comes to his business dealings, which have involved relationships with African strongmen like Robert Mugabe and a partnership with an American fraudster who is currently doing time in Florida for racketeering.

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Another arrangement with Arthur Porter, a high-profile Montreal health administrator, forced the latter to resign from his position on the board of Canada's intelligence watchdog when their involvement in a dubious $120-million aid-for-infrastructure in Sierra Leone was revealed. Dr. Porter is now under investigation for alleged improprieties involving the contracting for the billion-dollar McGill University Health Centre super-hospital, a project he formerly presided over.

Mr. Ben-Menashe, for his part, recently went to court to fend off efforts from a Canadian bank to freeze his accounts. Now he has more immediate concerns: how to deal with his ruined home and possessions.

The fire also forced Ben-Menashe's neighbours from their adjoining home – the incident is particularly ill-timed for the people next door, whose house was for sale at an asking price of just over $1.6-million.

Mr. Ben-Menashe's house was scheduled to be demolished late Monday; it's not clear what fate awaits the neighbouring dwelling.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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