A Washington lawyer was indicted by a federal grand jury here yesterday on fraud charges of submitting false and inflated insurance claims for his client's automobile accidents, and then keeping for himself any money paid by the companies to settle the claims.

An arrest warrant was immediately issued for Zollie Richburg 35, of 1709 N St. NW, after federal prosecutors reported that they understood Richburg had fled the country upon learning that he might be charged.

Richburg, himself a former federal prosecutor here, has been traced to London and Paris in recent weeks, and indicated on a passport application that he is headed for Dahomey, Africa, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Garey Stark, of the fraud division.

The 30-count indictment charges that Richburg filed at least $15,000 worth of phony claims over a 3 1/2-year period. He is charged specifically with mail fraud and false pretenses in connection with filing those claims.

The indictment is the fourth to be returned here in the last 18 months as part of a continuing investigation into fake automobile accident claims, according to U.S. Attorney Earl J. Silbert, but it is the first involving a lawyer. The investigation is continuing, prosecutors added.

Investigators said Richburg's alleged fraud scheme worked in this manner:

A client would approach Richburg to seek his help in making a claim against an insurance company. Based on the real accident involved, Richburg would then submit - without the client's knowledge - inflated claims to the insurance company.

The false claims would include statements that the clients had been treated by doctors when the had not, that clients had missed weeks of work when they had not, and that clients had rented cars to replace their wrecked ones when they had not, according to the indictment.

The charges asserted that Richburg would then negotiate a settlement with the insurance companies, without his clients' knowledge. He would then use the forged signatures of his clients on insurance release forms to obtain the settlement checks, cause them to be cashed, and keep the money, the indictment added.

The settlement checks included in yesterday's indictment ranged in value from $500 to $4,600.

Richburg was an assistant U.S. attorney here from July, 1969, to February, 1971.