Now that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has formally denied to allegations of crack cocaine use, it's just Ford's word versus his accusers', unless the video surfaces.

"I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict," Ford told reporters Friday. "As for a video: I cannot comment on a video I've never seen or does not exist."

The video purportedly shows him smoking crack in the presence of drug dealers. CBC News has not seen the video and cannot verify its contents or existence.

And that’s the real sticking point in this story: where’s the video? Is it even real?

Reporters for both the Toronto Star and U.S.-based gossip site Gawker have written about seeing the video. Cook claims he has watched the video, and two Toronto Star reporters said they watched it three times. All parties described a clear, well-lit video that shows Ford smoking from a glass pipe.

Gawker, which originally broke the story, said it declined to pay the reported $200,000 US price tag on the video, but embarked on a fundraising effort that’s now very near its goal, raising over $165,000. Problem is, the videographer seems to have vanished.

Gawker editor in chief John Cook revealed Thursday that the man selling the video has not been heard from since Sunday, and expressed some doubts about whether the video would ever become public.

"I imagine he is frightened," Cook told CBC News Friday. "I know that before the tape came out he was worried about his security and his safety and I imagine it's a very intense situation right now. The best guess that I can come up with is simply that he's gone to ground."

But Cook isn’t backpedalling on his story, saying Ford’s statement doesn’t amount to a denial. "I didn't hear anything that was inconsistent with him having been filmed smoking crack cocaine at some point in the last six months," he said. "He says he doesn't use it, he didn't say he never used it."

Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank said his paper also stands behind the story, and that Ford's denial was "a very odd statement."

"How could he comment on a video of him smoking crack if he hasn't had a chance to see it?" he told CBC News on Friday.

Cruickshank acknowledged that the Star "can't say with 100 per cent certainty" that the video is authentic, but he's confident that it backs up the crack allegations. 

"There doesn't seem to be any technology, outside of Star Trek, that would allow you to make a video like this and make it as deceptive as it appears to be," he said.

Cruickshank also conceded that the Star could reconsider its position on buying the video, saying there are "increasingly compelling legal reasons" to do so, and that it "may be the only way to get at a truth that the mayor will accept."

Gawker’s fundraising campaign runs until Sunday. Cook has said if the fundraising succeeds, but the effort to obtain the video fails, the money will go to a Canadian non-profit that helps people with drug addictions.