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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.

"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.

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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