Novak Djokovic could face a fine or even prison in Serbia after admitting he broke isolation while having covid last month, lawyers said, as the Serbian prime minister warned that his behavior appeared to be “a clear violation” of the rules.
The 34-year-old Belgrade-born tennis player is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open starting Monday, but could still face deportation by the government, which is unhappy with his medical exemption from inoculation.
Djokovic acknowledged on Wednesday that he knew he had tested positive when he attended a newspaper interview and photo shoot in the Serbian capital on December 18, and said in a statement on social media that he had made a “mistake in judgment” .
The player also blamed “human error” on his support team for an error in his immigration paperwork, saying that they had not declared that he had traveled outside of Serbia to Spain in the two week period before entering Australia.
Lawyers in Serbia told local reporters that violating the country’s strict isolation rules was a crime under article 248 of the penal code, and was subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to three years, although community service was more likely.
Djokovic was released from an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne on Monday after a judge ruled that his treatment was unreasonable. The unvaccinated star relies on a recent previous coronavirus infection for an exemption allowing him to play.
In an affidavit in court, Djokovic said he was “examined and diagnosed” as having contracted Covid on December 16. However, in his statement Wednesday, he said he was not notified of his positive status until the following day.
He said he did not know he had tested positive until after a tennis event he attended in Belgrade on December 17 to present awards to children, but admitted to going to his tennis center on December 18 for an interview and session. of photos for L’Equipe.
Lawyers in Serbia said that as a prominent public figure, Djokovic, who is a national hero in his home country, risked exemplary punishment, but if convicted, he should in principle be able to negotiate a community service order. .
In the early stages of the pandemic, several Serbs who had tested positive for COVID were sentenced to prison terms of up to three years for failing to isolate themselves for 14 days, although recent convictions have carried fines of some 150,000 dinars (£ 1,060).
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said Djokovic should explain what she called a gray area. “If you are positive, you have to isolate yourself”, Brnabić he told the bbc, adding that if the player had broken the rules, she would have to consult the “relevant authorities.”
Brnabić said he was not sure “when he got the results.” He said that although he did not agree with his stance on vaccination, Djokovic was “one of the great champions of Serbia” and hoped that he would be able to play in the tournament.
Serbian authorities and media have largely remained fiercely supporting the player despite the latest revelations. Earlier this week, Brnabić told a pro-government newspaper that he was “sleeping on my mobile phone” in case he received a call about the case.
“It was very important for me to express my concern about the issue. I have offered the service of the Serbian government if there is anything we can do. We have agreed to stay in communication with the Australian representatives, ”he said.
Serbian newspapers, mostly pro-government, have so far not investigated Djokovic’s movements in Serbia while he had Covid, nor have they questioned apparent anomalies in his test certificate. Of 18 different articles about the story on the Informer tabloid website on Wednesday, none questioned the player’s version of events.
In an opinion piece in the same newspaper, Belgrade Deputy Mayor Goran Vesić attacked Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who is still considering exercising personal powers to revoke the player’s visa again.
“No one had ever heard of a certain Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, but everyone has heard of Novak Djokovic,” Vesic wrote. “Well the world finally found out who Mr. Hawke is.”
Hawke would be “anonymous if he had not kept his citizens under house arrest for almost two years, treating them like convicts,” Vesic continued. “The Serbian opposition calls us, the ruling party, dictators, but believe me, neither the president nor any of us would ever overturn a judicial decision.”
Milivoje Pantovic is a producer at N1 Television in Belgrade
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism