Three former top executives of Bankers Trust Co. were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges they illegally diverted $15.5 million in unclaimed customer money to inflate their bank division's performance from 1993 to 1996.

The U.S. attorney for Manhattan unveiled the criminal charges against Bruce J. Kingdon, a former partner and managing director in charge of Bankers Trust's client processing division; Kenneth Goglia, former controller of the division; and Harvey R. Plante, former vice president of the division.

The indictments come four months after the bank agreed to pay $63.5 million in state and federal fines and to plead guilty to similar charges to settle the case, which authorities began investigating three years ago after being alerted to accounting irregularities by the bank. Bank officials are scheduled to appear Monday before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, who will review and decide whether to approve the proposed settlement.

Bankers Trust was the nation's eighth-largest bank until Deutsche Bank bought it in May for $9 billion, creating the world's biggest bank. In a separate matter, Deutsche Bank announced last month that German authorities are investigating whether its chief executive, Rolf Breuer, and three board members helped clients evade taxes.

Attorneys for the three men said they would plead not guilty and vigorously contest the charges.

The indictment alleges that Kingdon, Goglia and Plante used the money, which had been sitting in an account for unclaimed funds, "to cover up unexpected expenses" and to reduce planned expenses, such as "Christmas parties thrown for . . . senior management."

It also alleges that the three men concealed their activities from senior bank management by bypassing internal company controls and by supplying false information to federal bank examiners from the Federal Reserve Board.

The law requires that banks turn over unclaimed funds to the state after a certain period, if the owners of the money can't be tracked down.

A Deutsche Bank spokesman had no comment yesterday.

Last March, Bankers Trust officials said that 13 employees involved in the alleged scheme had resigned since March 1996, when the investigation began. They said that while some of the money had been improperly used to add to revenues or cover expenses, no money went into any employee's pocket or was taken out of the bank.

The Bankers Trust officials said all the money in question had been returned to customers or turned over to authorities.

The scandal is not the first for Bankers Trust. In the mid-1990s the bank was embarrassed by disclosures of unethical practices in the sale of risky financial instruments known as derivatives, which derive their value from the underlying value of stocks, bonds, interest rates and other financial instruments or benchmarks.