Barely a day goes by without some new report of the whereabouts of Peru's former spy master, sometimes with convincing detail, often not.
The intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, is on the run from the law, skipping by yacht and small plane through Central America and the Caribbean. The latest report has him in Venezuela, where he is said to have undergone plastic surgery.
One boat captain, Fidencio Anton Paiva, said he saw Mr. Montesinos in late November, seasick and depressed after a three-week yacht trip from Peru to Costa Rica. ''He seemed desperate,'' Mr. Paiva recounted in videotaped testimony this week to a commission investigating Mr. Montesinos's criminal activities as a close aide to the ousted president, Alberto K. Fujimori.
Despite his ailments, Mr. Montesinos, 54, achieved a spectacular escape from Peru on Oct. 29 that reinforced his cloak-and-dagger image.
Using fake passports and calling on important friends for help, Mr. Montesinos has had no problem eluding an international manhunt. ''The possibilities of capturing him are not good because he has a network of influence and money,'' said a Peruvian police colonel, Benedicto Jimenez.
Rumors as to Mr. Montesinos's whereabouts have swirled since he returned to Peru in late October after failing to get asylum in Panama.
Until three army officers who accompanied him on his escape testified to Congress last week, most people thought he was still in Peru, shielded by military allies.
A videotape released on Sept. 14 showing Mr. Montesinos apparently bribing a congressman led to the scandal that ended Mr. Fujimori's 10-year rule. Mr. Fujimori, now in Japan, was declared morally unfit for the presidency by Congress on Nov. 21
Mr. Montesinos is wanted on charges ranging from money laundering to directing death squads. He began his flight to avoid prison by slipping out of Callao port before dawn on Oct. 29. His sailboat joined a fleet of 20 yachts headed to Ecuador for a regatta, but veered toward the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles out in the Pacific, sailing for almost seven days before reaching a remote island in the group. From there he set sail north to Coco Island, a Costa Rican outpost 350 miles off the mainland.
There, Mr. Montesinos used a satellite phone to call a Venezuelan friend and ask for a sailboat that would meet the yacht at sea, according to the army officers who traveled with him. He abandoned the yacht on Nov. 21, switching to the smaller boat to land on the Costa Rican mainland, according to Costa Rica's security minister, Rogelio Ramos Martinez.
Mr. Ramos said Mr. Montesinos boarded a small plane a day later that took him to Aruba, off northwestern Venezuela. He used a false Venezuelan passport bearing the name Manuel Antonio Rodriguez Perez.
In Caracas, the director of a clinic confirmed on Wednesday that a man with that name had plastic surgery on Dec. 13.
Venezuela's foreign minister, Jose Vicente Rangel, said Thursday that no record had been found of anyone entering Venezuela under the name Manuel Antonio Rodriguez Perez or Vladimiro Montesinos.
Colonel Jimenez said that although Peruvians are fascinated with Mr. Montesinos's disappearing act, it's not a work of spy fiction for him. ''He knows that if he is caught, the probability he will be taken back alive is slim,'' the colonel said. ''He knows too much.''