BELGRADE, Jan.12 (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic was in Serbia within two weeks before flying to the Australian Open from Spain, according to three Belgrade residents, whose Reuters accounts backed posts on social networks that contradict information contained in his immigration declaration upon arrival in Melbourne.
Accounts from two eyewitnesses and another person, obtained by Reuters on Tuesday and not previously reported, corroborated earlier social media posts that appear to show Djokovic in Belgrade less than two weeks before he traveled to Spain , then in Australia.
These accounts of his travels contradict a statement submitted as part of the immigration formalities for Djokovic’s entry into Australia, that he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his departure for Australia.
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Providing false or misleading information on the form is an offense, punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to A $ 6,600 (US $ 4,730) and may result in the cancellation of the visa of the offender.
Djokovic, the world number one in men’s tennis, is in Australia to compete in the Australian Open next week. The federal government canceled his visa on arrival on the grounds that he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and that his medical exemption was not satisfactory.
A judge overturned the ruling on Monday after Djokovic managed to challenge justice. But the Australian government has said it is considering using discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
Two representatives for Djokovic and his Australian lawyers did not respond to emailed requests for comment on his movements in the 14 days leading up to January 5 and the information provided in the immigration form.
Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, responding to questions from Reuters, sent a statement which read: “If something had not been cleared up as some reporters claim, the verdict would have been different.”
Three separate social media posts claimed to show photos and a video of Djokovic in Belgrade and were published on December 25. It was not possible to independently verify when and where the images were recorded.
However, two eyewitnesses who spoke to Reuters said they saw the athlete in Belgrade on or after December 24, that is, in the 14-day window before he arrived in Australia, via Spain. Both witnesses said they could not recall the exact dates they saw the tennis player. A third person confirmed that Djokovic’s video posted on social media was recorded on December 25 in Belgrade.
Before boarding his Emirates flight to Melbourne, Djokovic – like all travelers to Australia – had to complete a form called the Australia Travel Declaration.
Among the questions on this form, Djokovic or his representatives had checked a box indicating that he had not traveled or did not want to travel in the 14 days prior to his flight to Australia, according to a copy of the completed form submitted to the Australian Federal Authority. court by his lawyers as part of his legal challenge.
Djokovic told Australian authorities that when he arrived in Australia on Jan.5, he had traveled there from Spain, according to documents his lawyers submitted to the court and viewed by Reuters.
In order not to have traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia, Djokovic had to be in Spain from December 23 at the latest.
When asked if she was investigating whether Djokovic’s form contained misleading information, the Australian Border Force said it had not commented on operational matters.
He said as part of Australia’s response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant, it is a binding requirement that travelers, among others, “make a statement setting out their travel history for the 14 days prior to their trip. planned flight ”.
Part of the evidence putting Djokovic in Serbia in the 14-day window before he left for Australia centers on video of an impromptu tennis match showing Djokovic playing with an unidentified individual on December 25 on a Belgrade street.
The video posted on Belgrade property manager Igor Rogan’s Instagram account showed a person matching Djokovic’s description, wearing jeans and a raincoat, playing tennis on a street. Reuters identified the location as West 65, an upscale apartment complex in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade. A branch of the Rogan Real Estate Company can be seen in the background.
The video was posted on December 25, with a caption saying it was recorded the same day. When the company was contacted by Reuters, an employee of the company where Rogan works said that the West 65 branch was opened on December 25 and that Rogan recorded the video in Belgrade on the same day.
“I remember it was Catholic Christmas,” she said. Orthodox Christians, the majority in Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. She asked not to be identified. She declined to answer further questions, referring the inquiries to Rogan. He told Reuters he was unwilling to comment.
The two eyewitnesses who spoke to Reuters, and who declined to be named, said they saw Djokovic near the same apartment complex.
The accounts the three people provided to Reuters corroborate previous social media posts.
A photo posted to Twitter, also on December 25, by a user called Danilo Skerovic showed Djokovic posing with a fan in front of the same building. The tennis player wore the same outfit as in the video posted by Rogan, with a tennis racquet in one hand and a tennis ball in the other. Skerovic did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Another photo of Djokovic was posted the same day on the Instagram account of Petar Djordjic, an athlete who plays handball for the Serbian national team and Portuguese club SL Benfica. The photo showed Djokovic, in the same outfit and in the same setting, posing alongside Djordjic. Djordjic did not respond to messages sent to his cell phone number on Tuesday. SL Benfica did not respond to a request for comment.
In an interview with an immigration official at Melbourne airport, Djokovic said the Australian travel declaration was completed by his agent, according to a transcript of the interview released as part of the court challenge . Elena Cappellaro, who acts as her agent, did not respond to a request for comment on whether she has completed the form.
Djokovic’s case sparked a row between Canberra and Belgrade and fueled a heated debate over mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies.
Public opinion in Australia, which is battling a wave of Omicron infections and where more than 90% of the adult population is doubly vaccinated, has largely opposed the player. Serbian supporters of the tennis player claimed he had become a scapegoat by Australian authorities.
(One Australian $ = 0.72 US $)
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Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac, Leela de Kretser, Sonali Paul, Aislinn Lang and Belen Carreno; Written by Christian Lowe, edited by Angus MacSwan and Jon Boyle
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