When the Shah ruled Iran, was that country's Washington embassy the site of private parties for congressmen fond of opium and prostitutes?

Yes, alleged New York magazine in an article published a year ago. New the man said to have arranged such festivities, Manoutchehr Ardalan, is suing the article's author and New York magazine for $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages. He says he cannot return to his homeland and that he and his wife have suffered "extreme mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, nervous tension and anxiety" as a result of the piece.

If the case should go to trial in U.S. District court here, the world may get a glimpse of life during the very social stewardship of former Iranian Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi. And some of Washington's social, journalistic and political luminaries may find their names involved.

Until he became Iran's consul general in San Francisco in 1978, Manoutchehr Ardalan was a counselor at Iran's Massachusetts Avenue embassy. Educated at George Washington University and the London School of Economics, Ardalan is today a 39-year-old professional diplomat without a country. Shortly after the Shah's downfall, Ardalan, his wife and 4-year-old daughter packed their belongings to return home. Several days before their departure, the family learned three Iranian newspapers had reprinted the New York article; Ardalan was warned that Tehran might not provide the most hospitable of welcomes.

Ardalan's attorneys have letters from, among others, Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr., columnist Carl Rowan, newsman John Scali, and Sen. Abraham Ribicoff, attesting to Ardalan's good character. Writing in New York, however, journalist Gregory Rose quoted "informed sources" who alleged that Ardalan was a senior SAVAK (Iranian secret police) agent who procured women for orgies attended by congressmen. A source close to the diplomat (who now works in Washington as an international relations consultant) says Ardalan characterizes the charges as "grotesque" and "ill-founded."

Both sides in the suit may soon commence discovery proceedings, says Ardalan's lawyer, Joe Koonz of Ashcraft, Gerel & Koonz. If the case is not settled out of court, the trail could offer the first look inside the embassy renowned during the Shah's reign for the lavish parties attended by famous Washingtonians.