NEWARK, FEB. 11 -- A former research official of Liggett Group Inc. has testified that company managers suppressed a safer cigarette because allowing it to be marketed "would seriously indict them for having sold other types of cigarettes that didn't contain" the additives believed to protect smokers against lung cancer.

James D. Mold, who was assistant research director of Liggett's tobacco division until he resigned in 1979, criticized company lawyers, charging that they overruled "upper management" efforts to market the new cigarette and to publish health-related research.

"Whenever any problem came up in the {safer-cigarette} project, the legal department would pounce ... in an attempt to kill the project, and this happened time and time again," Mold testified.

Mold's testimony is in a deposition videotaped last month in Durham, N.C., for the Rose D. Cipollone smoker-death lawsuit against Liggett, Philip Morris Inc. and Lorillard Inc. Under federal court rules, he was beyond the reach of a subpoena to testify in person.

Most of Mold's two hours of direct testimony was played for a U.S. District Court jury today, and the balance, plus four hours of cross-examination, will be played Tuesday.

James V. Kearney of Liggett's law firm, Webster & Sheffield, told reporters: "I think that the true and complete picture of this testimony will come out only in the cross-examination ... and I'll let that cross-examination speak for itself."

Because of defense objections, Judge H. Lee Sarokin did not let the jury hear Mold recalling a meeting in which, he said, Liggett & Myers President K.V.R. Dey said "that he was told by someone in the Phillip Morris Co. that if we tried to market such a product {the safer cigarette} that they would clobber us."

Liggett hired Mold in 1955, two years after Dr. Ernest L. Wynder produced skin cancer in mice to whose backs he applied tars condensed from cigarette smoke.

Mold said Wynder's results tended to support statistical studies "and, therefore, represented a threat to the tobacco industry."

The response of several tobacco companies was to form what is now called the Council for Tobacco Research to make grants for studies. "I don't think {the CTR} was directed toward solving" the smoking-and-health issue, Mold testified. "They were directed toward accumulating information."

Going its own way, Liggett gave Mold interlocking missions: To try to identify components of the condensate that caused or promoted cancer, to work with scientist Charles J. Kensler at Arthur D. Little Inc. in trying to replicate Wynder's experiment and undertake more advanced animal studies, and to work on developing the safer cigarette.

Mold said that soon Wynder's tests were repeated, but that Liggett didn't tell the public. Nor, he said, did the company allow him to publish his finding of previously unidentified carcinogens and cancer-promoters in cigarette smoke.

Liggett patented the safer cigarette, which used the heavy metal palladium to neutralize the carcinogenic effects of the tars, in 1977.

In 1978, Mold accompanied Kensler to Buenos Aires, where the Arthur D. Little scientist delivered a paper on the palladium cigarette to an international cancer symposium.

"We had a stack of {press} releases that we were supposed to set out on the table and then make ourselves available for interview after the paper had been presented," Mold testified.

"Before the paper was presented, I got a frantic call from {the late Joseph Greer, Liggett's vice president and counsel} ... not {to} hold a press conference, that they had changed their mind."

By then, Mold said, the lawyers had involved themselves in the safer-cigarette project for three years -- from the time "it became apparent that management was interested in marketing this cigarette."

After Buenos Aires, the in-house lawyers engaged in "continual footdragging" about publication of Kensler's report, Mold said. For example, he said, Liggett Group President Raymond Mulligan approved publication in Science magazine, only to see Greer prevent an article from being submitted.