The Australian Border Force is investigating whether Novak Djokovic incorrectly declared he had not travelled and would not do so for two weeks before his flight to Australia, in the latest twist in the tennis star’s visa cancellation saga.
Questions have been raised about the declaration completed by an agent for Djokovic, with social media posts seemingly showing he was in Belgrade on Christmas Day before flying to Australia from Spain on 4 January.
On Tuesday, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, received a call from his Serbian counterpart, Ana Brnabić, in which he sought to manage the diplomatic fallout of the overturned visa cancellation by insisting Australia’s border policies were non-discriminatory.
Despite a win in court restoring his visa on Monday, Djokovic’s fate will now be determined by Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, due to his personal power to again cancel the visa and deport the world’s No 1 male tennis player.
Any decision to recancel the visa would likely be met by a fresh legal challenge from Djokovic, and a request for an injunction to stay out of immigration detention so that he could play in the Australian Open, where he is chasing a male record 21st grand slam singles title.
In order to recancel the visa, Hawke would have to be satisfied of a ground for cancellation, such as a threat to public safety, and that cancellation was in the public interest.
That could bring fresh scrutiny to Djokovic’s pre-travel declaration and his public appearances in the days after his positive Covid test result of 16 December.
In his Australian traveller declaration, filed on 1 January, Djokovic declared “no” when asked: “Have you travelled or will you travel in the 14 days prior to your flight to Australia?”
The declaration is accompanied with a warning that giving false or misleading information is a “serious offence”, also punishable by civil penalties.
In documents filed to the federal circuit court, Djokovic said that on 1 January he authorised his agent to submit this declaration, before travelling to Melbourne from Spain via Dubai on 4 January.
In his interview with border force officials on 6 January, Djokovic confirmed the declaration was completed by his agent, “based on” his Tennis Australia-approved medical exemption, but was not asked in the interview about travel in the fortnight before arrival.
A Twitter post by a Portuguese tennis reporter, Jose Morgado, appears to show Djokovic was in Belgrade at Christmas, posing with the handball star Petar Djordjic.
Djokovic was also pictured playing tennis in the streets of Belgrade in a video post on Instagram from 26 December, which now appears to have been taken down.
Djokovic flew from Spain to Melbourne, where he arrived at 11.30pm on 5 January.
Asked if the travel declaration could provide fresh grounds to cancel Djokovic’s visa, a spokesperson for Hawke said the minister was still considering whether to exercise his power to do so.
“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.”
The travel declaration comes on top of reported anomalies on the official website showing Djokovic’s positive Covid test, which was the basis for his claimed medical exemption from vaccination. Der Spiegel reported that the QR code linked to Djokovic’s Covid-19 test on 16 December, published in court documents on Monday, at times appeared to return a negative result.
According to Der Spiegel, accessing Djokovic’s test result via QR code on Monday evening Australia time revealed a negative test result, before a subsequent attempt showed a positive result.
The website returned only positive results when accessed by the Guardian on Tuesday.
The New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg similarly reported getting contradictory results from the same QR code.
Views within the Australian government are mixed on whether it should enforce a zero-tolerance approach on the requirement to be vaccinated and reject Djokovic’s exemption based on his recent Covid test result.
A spokesperson for Morrison said he had a “constructive call with prime minister Brnabić this morning on Novak Djokovic”.
“The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They both agreed to stay in contact on the issue, and to further strengthening the bilateral relationship.”
Last week, Morrison vacillated on the question, at first deferring to the Victorian state government about whether Djokovic should be allowed in without quarantine, before backflipping to declare “rules are rules” and the vaccination requirement must be enforced.
In a statement on Tuesday, the ATP tour said although it fully respected Australia’s “stringent immigration policies” it was “clear Novak Djokovic believed he had been granted a necessary medical exemption in order to comply with entry regulations”.
“The series of events leading to Monday’s court hearing have been damaging on all fronts, including for Novak’s well-being and preparation for the Australian Open.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Djokovic’s lawyers, Hall and Wilcox, confirmed he attended the court hearing at their Melbourne office – despite the firm’s policy requiring a Covid-19 vaccination – with “a medical exemption approved by our Covid officer and managing partner”.
Djokovic’s agent and lawyers have been contacted for comment.