The teachers at his posh Swiss school suspected something was amiss when Pak Un’s mum and dad never turned up for parents’ evenings.
Staff were continually fobbed off with various excuses by the teenage pupil’s shadowy chaperones about why the pair could not attend the end of term meetings.
But they never guessed the real reason Pak’s father was never present – because he was a tyrant busy running a ruthless dictatorship 5,000 miles away.
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“Pak” was, in fact, future dictator Kim Jong-un – the youngest son of North Korea’s recently deceased leader Kim Jong-il and the next head of the nuclear state.
For over two years Jong-un was secretly educated at the Liebefeld-Steinholzi school in Liebefeld on the outskirts of Bern.
Ironically, the curriculum at the school – whose motto is “We produce quality” – included lessons in democracy, a way of life that oppressed North Koreans have no experience of.
While he was there, Jong-un immersed himself in student life – going out for pizzas, hanging out with friends and playing basketball.
Swiss authorities were told “Pak” was the son of an employee at North Korea’s embassy when he enrolled in August 1998. And although Jong-un kept his identity secret from his teenage classmates there were tantalising clues about who he really was.
Well-heeled “Pak” arrived in Switzerland with a “fantastic” collection of Nike trainers worth thousands of pounds.
His close schoolfriend Nikola Kovacevic recalled: “We only dreamed about having such shoes. He was wearing them.”
Each pair of his trainers were worth more than four times the average monthly salary in North Korea. Yet as he paraded around in them, his fellow countrymen and women were starving to death as a result of a devastating famine.
“Pak” lived in a large flat at No 10 Kirchstrasse, a sedate suburban street with two pizza cafes, a bank and a Co-op supermarket. It was sparsely furnished but filled with NBA memorabilia – including photos of him with basketball stars Kobe Bryant and Toni Kukoc. Friends say he was “obsessed” with basketball and showed “absolutely no interest” in politics.
Around girls “Pak” was awkward, recall friends. But on the basketball court he was “fiercely competitive” – winning was everything.
Kovacevic said: “He was a fiercely competitive player, very explosive. He was the playmaker. He made things happen.” Another friend Marco Imhof remembers seeing two North Korean women videotaping Jong-un when he played basketball.
Imhof said: “I thought it strange, but put it down to being a Korean thing. He hated to lose. Winning was very important.
“He was funny. Always good for a laugh. I can’t believe that I played basketball with him and now he could rule North Korea.”
The mysterious females that Imhof saw appeared to act as minders and servants.
Classmates also thought it strange how his obsession with basketball was indulged. On at least one occasion, a car from the North Korean Embassy drove “Pak” to Paris to watch an NBA exhibition game. And he got told off in class for doing a pencil drawing of Michael Jordan instead of concentrating on the lesson.
“Pak” also got in trouble when a teacher who was checking pupils’ bags for cheat notes before an exam pulled a bondage-themed porn mag out of his bag.
Outside class he would play games on his PlayStation and watch action films featuring hand-to-hand combat, particularly those starring kung fu hero Jackie Chan. Amazingly, Jong-un only revealed his identity to his closest school friend, Portuguese teenager Joao Micaelo.
He told Joao about his infamous father and even showed him pictures of them together. Joao told his mother, who believed his friend was just making idle boasts.
But she later changed her mind when Joao saw footage of Kim Jong-il on television and told her it was the man in the pictures. Joao said: “He was a big fan of the Chicago Bulls. His life was basketball. I think 80% of our time we were playing basketball. He was a good friend. He was very quiet. He was a nice guy.”
After enrolling at Liebefeld-Steinholzi, Jong-un had to attend a special language course for students with poor German. He went on to speak it fluently, along with basic English and French.
Local education chief Ueli Studer remembers “Pak” as being “well-integrated, diligent and ambitious”, and left suddenly in unexplained circumstances.
He said: “Pak attended the school for two to three years and left abruptly in the middle of the school year.
“Pak attended a class for non-German speaking pupils but then quickly moved over to another class.
“He was well-integrated, diligent and ambitious. His hobby was basketball.” Studer, who said he can’t confirm “Pak” was the future dictator, added: “If the boy really was Kim Jong-un, he must have learnt a lot about democracy – that is one of the subjects being taught in the 7th and 8th grade.”
Then in late 2000, “Pak” suddenly vanished from his Swiss school as mysteriously as he had arrived.
His friend Kovacevic said: “We thought he was ill or something and would soon be back. But he never came to school again. He totally disappeared.
“We were just playing basketball together – and now he is going to be a dictator. I hope he is a good leader, but dictators are usually not that good.”
There are other fears surrounding Jong-un’s sudden rise to power following Jong-il’s death from a heart attack.
Jong-un, 28, was only appointed as his father’s successor two years ago, and some fear the inexperienced young heir will be unable to stamp his authority on the cabals and cliques that make up the ruling class in North Korea.
A power vacuum, or even worse an attempted military coup, could prove devastating for the region with wily army chiefs competing to prove their hardline credentials with a show of force against the enemy in the South.
Those fears were calmed slightly yesterday when the army gave its backing to Jong-un, and it also emerged that his uncle Jang Song Thaek will help him rule the country.
But while yesterday’s developments were welcome news for neighbouring countries, they will be scant comfort for the millions of North Koreans starving or imprisoned in the country’s gulags.