By Rory Cassidy

A CROOKED shopkeeper who swiped more than £120,000 from the Post Office to pay off his debts and then told police he had been robbed by gun-toting gangsters has been jailed.

Kulwinder Bagri, 53, caused police to send out a helicopter, armed response officers and even the dog squad in a bid to track down the non-existent balaclava-wearing gunmen on February 26 this year.

He made up the armed robbery so he could steal the cash from the Post Office branch within his store to pay off a £300,000 debt from a failed business venture.

Bagri ran the Premier Stores, in Clarkston, and acquired the property next door, which was turned into a Post Office branch.

He and his wife then splashed out on a cafe in Glasgow’s Dennistoun area which they hoped would make them even more money.

But the cafe did not take off and he was left £300,000 in the red.

He told police two men with London accents had gone to his shop and held him up with a shotgun and a pistol.

Bagri said they had cornered him outside the shop, showed him pictures of his family and threatened to kill them, before destroying CCTV footage recorded in the store and making off with £120,000 in cash.

But, in actual fact, he had made the whole thing up and had gone to watch a game of football in a pub before taking the money from the taxpayer-owned Post Office and using it to pay off his debts.

His ruse fell apart when savvy police officers scoured CCTV cameras outside the shop and were able to prove his story didn’t stand up as no gunmen could be seen.

And, when officers searched his Glasgow home, they found £6,000 in cash in his bedroom.

Bagri admitted his guilt over the doomed plot at Paisley Sheriff Court last month, pleading guilty to charges of embezzling £124,843 from the Post Office and making a false report to police that he had been the victim of an armed robbery.

Sentence was deferred for background reports and when Bagri returned to the dock to learn his fate, defence solicitor advocate Billy Lavelle asked for leniency.

Mr Lavelle said: “He wants to try and put his difficulties and fractured life back together as well as he can.”

But Sheriff David Pender ruled there was only one way he could deal with Bagri and jailed him for 34 months – 28 months for the embezzlement and six months for wasting police time.

This was reduced from 51 months as he admitted his guilt.

Sheriff Pender told him: “I accept you are a member of a hard-working community and a very hard-working family.

“I dare say if the business venture of the cafe hadn’t gone bust you wouldn’t be here today, but you were in a position of trust and you embezzled quite a substantial sum of money.

“There is no disposal open to the court other than a period of imprisonment.”

Bagri also faces losing his house as part of a Proceeds of Crime case against him, which is due to call in court next month, as prosecutors try to recover the money he embezzled.

When asked for a comment, a Post Office spokeswoman said: “It is a matter for court.”