Tennis star Novak Djokovic is facing fresh questions over whether his positive result for COVID-19 was manipulated after inconsistencies emerged about the timing and result of his PCR test.
The Australian government is aware of the inconsistencies. However, it is unclear whether it is forming a part of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s consideration into whether to cancel the world No.1’s visa.
One of Novak’s Djokovic’s PCR test results showing a negative on government website pcr.euprava.gov.rs one hour, positive the next.Credit:Der Spiegel and Scott Barbour/Tennis Australia
Mr Hawke was to make his decision on whether to use his personal power to deport the Serbian star on public health grounds as early as Wednesday, but Djokovic’s lawyers submitted additional information which will draw out the process longer than expected.
A spokesperson for Mr Hawke said on Wednesday the Serbian tennis star’s lawyers had “recently provided lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation said to be relevant to the possible cancellation of Mr Djokovic’s visa”.
“Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision,” they said.
Djokovic gained entry to Australia on the basis that he had a positive test for COVID-19 on December 16, which he claimed gave him a valid exemption for being unvaccinated. But data in the test result URL from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, linked in the QR code provided to Border Force as part of Djokovic’s visa application, suggests it is timestamped December 26.
Australian cyber security experts said there may be a valid explanation for the discrepancies, first revealed by German publication Der Spiegel, but there are legitimate questions to answer.
Der Spiegel also revealed that when it scanned the QR code for the test from December 16, the result from the scan was “test result Negative.” About an hour later, the publication said a second scan of the QR code returned a different result: “Test result Positive”.
In a social media post on Wednesday, Djokovic addressed some inconsistencies by admitting he made an “error of judgement” by taking part in a media interview while he knew he was COVID-19 positive.
“I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the … interview as I didn’t want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken,” he said of the December 18 interview, the day after he said he received a positive result.
Robert Potter, co-CEO of cyber security firm Internet 2.0, confirmed there were inconsistencies between the timestamps in the documentation Djokovic presented to Border Force officials, and the URL linked to the QR code on one of Djokovic’s tests.
“I can’t interpret the medical implications but I’d say there is sufficient evidence to question the fidelity of his paperwork submitted to the Australian government relating to his positive test,” Mr Potter said.
“The time stamp contained within the QR code of his positive test does not match the paperwork as submitted. However, the timestamp of his negative test does match his submitted paperwork. As long as you are confident that the QR codes you have sent me for evaluation match those submitted to the Australian government, then I’m confident saying that Djokovic has legitimate questions to answer.”
German cyber group zerforschung also found that, according to the ID numbers attached to the test results, there are questions about the timing of Djokovic’s claimed positive result on December 16 and his claimed negative result on December 22. The identification number for the negative result is 50,000 numerations lower, suggesting it was recorded before the positive result.
“Based on these pieces of evidence, the most plausible explanation is that the positive test result was added to the official Serbian database on the 26th of December, and not on the 16th,” the IT experts told Der Spiegel.
Later on Wednesday morning (Australian time), the German cyber group said a “plausible explanation” for the timestamp discrepancy had come to light, but not for the discrepancy around the confirmation codes.
Pointing to web postings by Serbian users of the HackerNews forum, it was theorised that timestamps in the QR code and its linked URL were regenerated when the PDF was downloaded with a result. This could mean, for instance, that Djokovic or someone on his behalf re-downloaded one of his results on December 26.
“This explains the inconsistencies in the timestamps – but not in the confirmation codes – because they remain the same,” zerforschung wrote in a detailed blog post update and on Twitter.
“And the inconsistencies also exists in them. The confirmation codes are ascending, so the result from the 16th should have a lower number than the one from [the] 22nd. However, it is the other way around.”
Australian Border Force, Djokovic’s lawyers and Tennis Australia were contacted for comment.
In May 2021, European news agency N1 reported that fake COVID-19 PCR results were able to be purchased in Serbia.
The news agency cited “sources at the Serbian government e-administration office” confirming a false PCR result bought by journalists on the black market was faked using Photoshop and a national personal ID number.
The false document purchased by the investigative journalists, who were seeking to prove the ability to buy fake lab results, had the same Institute of Public Health of Serbia letterhead as the document provided by Djokovic. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age does not suggest Djokovic purchased false test results.
Meanwhile, the Australian government is also looking into a discrepancy on Djokovic’s Australia Travel Declaration.
On the form, Djokovic stated he had not travelled in 14 days prior to his January 6 arrival in Australia. Djokovic had in fact been in Belgrade on Christmas Day and was then spotted training in Marbella, Spain on December 31 and again on January 2.
Djokovic’s statement on Wednesday confirmed his support team had made an “administrative error” by claiming he had not travelled anywhere in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
“This was submitted by my support team on my behalf – as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agency sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia,” Djokovic wrote.
The Federal Circuit Court on Monday ordered, with the consent of both parties, that Djokovic’s visa should be reinstated because he was not given enough time to prove he had a valid COVID-19 vaccine exemption when he arrived in Australia.
The federal government insists it was right to cancel Djokovic’s visa last week on the basis that a prior COVID-19 infection in the past six months is not a valid reason to have an exemption for being unvaccinated. The court never ruled on that question because the federal government conceded it did not provide Djokovic procedural fairness.
The questions over Djokovic’s documentation came after photos emerged of the Serb attending various functions not wearing a mask in the days after his positive result.
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