NOVAK Djokovic could be jailed for three years after admitting he broke Serbian isolation rules after testing positive for Covid in December.
The anti-vax tennis ace is facing a tirade of backlash after coming clean about knowingly flouting isolation measures while infected – which according to his country's law is punishable by up to three years behind bars.
In a lengthy statement today, Djokovic admitted he defied rules and took part in a photo shoot and interview with French newspaper L'Equipe in an "error of judgement".
He confessed that he met with a journalist two days after he tested positive in Belgrade, before his arrival Down Under.
The 34-year-old posed maskless for a photo shoot, but says he wore a face covering for the rest of the meeting.
He claims he felt "obliged" to fulfil the interview arrangement as he "didn't want to let the journalist down", but has admitted he should have "rearranged".
"I want to emphasise that I have tried very hard to ensure the safety of everyone and my compliance with testing obligations," Djokovic wrote on Instagram.
"I attended a basketball game in Belgrade on December 14 after which it was reported that a number of people tested positive with Covid-19.
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"Despite having no Covid symptoms, I took a rapid antigen test on December 16 which was negative, and out of an abundance of caution, also took an official and approved PCR test on that same day."
The following day, Djokovic attended a ceremony at the Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade – but insists he was "asymptomatic and felt good" and claims wasn't told he had Covid until after the event.
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He says he took a rapid test before the event on December 17, which was negative.
"The next day on Decemeber 18 I was at my tennis centre in Belgrade to fulfil a long-standing commitment for a L’Equipe interview and photoshoot. I cancelled all other events," he added.
"I felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L'Equipe interview as I didn't want to let the journalist down.
"[I ensured] I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken.
"While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled the commitment."
Serbia's PM Ana Brnabic told BBC that if Djokovic had attended events despite a positive test, “it would be a clear breach of rules, because if you are positive, you would have to be isolation”.
Under Serbian law, breaking Covid rules can result in a jail sentence.
Article 248 of the Criminal Code under Serbian Law states: “Whoever during an epidemic of a dangerous contagious disease fails to act pursuant to regulations, decisions or orders setting forth measures for its suppression or prevention, shall be punished by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.”
It remains unclear at what point Djokovic knew he had tested positive with Covid, but evidence submitted by his own lawyers says he took a PCR test just after 1pm on December 16.
Documentation from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia states the result came back positive the same day, at around 8pm.
Djokovic's family quickly halted their press conference on Monday after a question was asked about what happened after the day after he tested positive for Covid on December 16.
As well as admitting to breaking Covid isolation rules, Djokovic has blamed his agent for wrongly filling in a form declaring he hadn't visited any countries before arriving in Australia.
The Serbian star is facing deportation and being banned from Australia for three years for the wrongly filling in a travel declaration.
Djokovic's travel form had a box ticked to say he had not travelled to any other countries in the 14 days prior to his departure for the Australian Open in Melbourne.
He landed in Oz late on January 5, but social media posts show he spent time in Spain during that period – and was pictured practising on a tennis court in Marbella.
In an Instagram post on Wednesday, he attributed the claim on the form to "human error" on behalf of his agent.
"On the issue of my travel declaration, this was submitted by my support team on my behalf – as I told immigration officials on my arrival – and my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia," he said.
"This was a human error and certainly not deliberate. We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur."
Djokovic says his team has now "provided additional information" to the Aussie government to "clarify this matter".
On its website, the Home Affairs Department warns that giving "false or misleading information" to the government is “a serious offence” carrying a possible jail term.
“If convicted, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 12 months,” it says.
It comes as the Aussie government continues to mull whether to again revoke Djokovic's visa.
On arrival in Oz, the Serbian ace was held at an immigration centre after his visa was dramatically cancelled, and then housed in a quarantine hotel.
Lawyers for the 20-time Grand Slam winner argued that he didn't need to have the vaccine as he had already had Covid and that border force officials hadn't given enough notice to revoke his visa.
A judge on Monday ruled should be released from detention.
But despite a judge ruling the decision to cancel his visa was “unreasonable”, the anti-vaxxer could still be booted out of the country by the Aussie government.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could use "personal discretion" to move ahead with another cancellation – which would see him banned from Oz for three years.
The Aussie government has confirmed Mr Hawke is still considering whether to cancel Djokovic's visa.
A spokesman said: "In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter.
"As the issue is ongoing, for legal reasons it is inappropriate to comment further."
Timeline of Djokovic’s Covid saga
Dec 14 – Novak Djokovic attends basketball game in Belgrade
Dec 16 – He takes a PCR test at 1pm, which comes back positive at 8pm. It's unclear if he was told of his positive result
Dec 17 – Novak attends a tennis awards ceremony with kids and is a presented ceremonial a stamp
Dec 17 – Djokovic claims that he is informed he has Covid only AFTER these events
Dec 18 -Djokovic admits he knowingly attends an interview with L’Equipewhile positive
Dec 22 – Djokovic receives a negative PCR test result
Dec 25 – He poses for a picture with a pal in Belgrade
Dec 31 – Novak is pictured training in Marbella
Jan 4 – He flies from Spain to Dubai to Australia
Jan 5 – Novak arrives in Melbourne and is detained over his vaccination ‘exemption’
Jan 10 – He is released from detention and returns to training
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