The president of an Arab-controlled bank paid off a $3.5 million loan for Bert Lance without even asking Lance to sign a note, an attorney claimed yesterday at a court hearing in the Financial General Bankshares case.

Lance's $3.5 million loan from First National Bank of Chicago was repaid in January by Agha Hasan Abedi, president of Bank of Credit and Commerce International, said Edward McAmis, attorney for Financial General in a civil lawsuit against Lance, Abedi, BBCI and others accused of using illegal methods in seeking control of Financial General.

McAmis said Lance told him in a sworn statement made on Monday that Abedi repaid the loan directly, without any discussion of the interest rate or how and when Lance would repay Abedi. The multimillion-dollar loan made with only an oral promise to repay showed Lance's close ties and obligation to Abedi and BCCI, McAmis argued.

Lance's attorney, Robert Altman, accused McAmis of deliberately misconstrucing the loan as part of a campaign to smear Lance.

"It wasn't like that at all," Altman said. He said formal loan documents were being drawn up, but had not been completed because of the lawsuit and other complications.

Financial General's attorneys claim that Abedi and other wealthy Arabs in the Financial General deal were using Lance as a "figurehead," intending to buy the D.C. bank holding company and then install Lance to run it for them.

McAmis raised the issue of Lance's personal finances at a hearing on Financial General's request for a preliminary injunction to block Lance, Abedi, BCCI and others from doing anything to seek control of Financial General.

U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Gaseh said it would take him some time to reach a decision in the case.

Lance borrowed the money from First National Bank of Chicago after he had been chosen by President Carter to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget but before he took office. The loan - and its connection with business dealins between First National of Chicago and Lance's National Bank of Georgia - was one of the issues that led Lance to resign from the administration.

Lance put up his stock in NBG as collateral on $1.8 million of the loan and borrowed another $1,625,000 on an unsecured note.

The revelation that Abedi had repaid the Chicago loan came as a surprise. It had been reported earlier that Lance sold his NBG stock for $2.4 million and used the money to pay off some of his debts, including the Chicago loan.

Court records in Georgia showed the Chicago loan was repaid on Jan. 4, the same day Lance completed the sale of his NBG stock to Ghaith R. Pharaon, a Saudi Arabian financier who has business ties to Abedi. That same day Lance paid back a $443,000 loan to a Tennessee bank, raising questions about how he paid nearly $4 million in debts with $2.4 million in cash.

Yesterday's assertions suggest that Lance got money from two Arab sources in January, when he moved to extricate himself from past debts - the sale of stock to Pharaon plus the loan from Abedi.

In court yesterday, McAmis said Lance's lawyers refused to let Lance answer questions about how much he is being paid for helping four Arab clients of BCCI buy stock in Financial General.

Lance's lawyers also would not let him say how much money he had borrowed from Abedi, BCCI or others invovled in the case, but did allow him to be questioned about the purpose of the loans.

McAmis quoted Lance as saying the loans were "to pay off debts at First National Bank of Chicago" which amounted "in round numbers of $3.5 million."

Lance, McAmis said, admitted he never saw the $3.5 million because it "went straight to First National Bank of Chicago."

McAmis said "Abedi had simply paid the money" and the two men agreed to meet later to discuss the terms. That was more than two months ago and the interest rate and repayment date have still not been set, Altman acknowledged.

Financial General contends that a plot to take over the $2.2 billion bank holding company was hatched by a group including Lance, Abedi, BCCI, four Arab clients of the bank, Jackson Stephens - a Little Rock, Ark., firm - and Eugene Metzger, a Washington lawyer, without the public disclosure required by law.

The four Arabs have bought nearly 20 percent of Financial General's stock, and Lance, Stephens and Metzger control another 8 percent.

Last Saturday the defendants in the civil suit settled a complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing them of violating securities laws by not reporting their plans to seek a controlling interest in Financial General.

In the settlement approved by Judge Gasch, the four Arabs agreed to make a public tender offer of $15 a share for all the outstanding Financial General shares, which have traded recently in the $10 range.