When Bert Lance left Washington in the fall of 1977, there were widespread predictions of his imminent backruptcy. At the least, it was said, he would have to sell the Atlanta mansion his wife, LaBelle, once called "the White House of the South."

Until his indictment today, however, Lance has managed to maintain his extraordinary life-stylle as a paper millionaire. He still has his mansion. He retains expensive lawyers in Washington and criminal attorneys here in Atlanta. He jets around the world, from London to Karachi.

Once President Carter's closest confidant as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lance has lost his reputation as the successful laywer who would bring fiscal conservatism to the nation's capital.

He no longer has the insider banking relationships that permitted him to build up personal debts of more than $5 million before he was forced to resign as OMB director on Sept. 21, 1977. But Bert Lance still knows how to keep ahead of the bill collectors.

Instead of paying off his debts, sources say, he has largely shifted them overseas, reportedly without paying any interest.

On his return to Georgia some 20 months ago, Lance sorely needed a financial angel to help him with his debts.

As earlier federal investigations have made clear, Lance had used his executive positions at the National Bank of Georgia and the Calhoun (Ga.) First National Bank as leverage to obtain his personal loans.

In addition, there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and overdrafts that Lance arranged for relatives, friends and associates that had been carried on the Calhoun books, unpaid, for years. This situation caused one federal attorney publicly to describe Calhoun National as a "piggy bank."

Shortly after his return to Georgia, a group of Lance loyalists tried to help their friend by getting him back into the management of NBG-as chairman of the board.

According to one board director, NBG insiders promoting the plan kept it a secret from the bank's president, Robert Guyton, who had been hired when Lance went to Washington. Sources say Guyton threatened to quit when he finally learned of the plan, and that it was abandoned.

That left Lance with a huge personal debt to a number of banks, all of them under scrutiny by federal examiners. His only sources of income appeared to be a $50,000 a year role as a TV commentator, which has since been dropped, and fees for speeches and occasional public appearances.

Then, in early 1978, an angel appeared.

On Jan. 4, 1978, Lance was able to pay off a year-old loan frm the First National Bank of Chicago that, with interest, had grown to $3.6 million. The money for this ame from the Arab-controlled Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), a London-based institution run by Agha Hasan Abedi, a Pakistani.

That same day, Lance sold 60 percent of his stock in NGB at a premium price to Saudi Arabian businessman Ghaith Pharaon, a close associate of Abedi.

According to knowledgeable sources, the $3.6 million BCCI loan was extended to Lance on a handshake. For months afterward, the source says, no contract was signed, no interest rate set and no payment terms laid down.

Another source familiar with the transaction says that the informal agreement called for Lance to use the money Pharaon paid him for his stock in NGB to pay down the $3.6 million BCCI loan.

But this was not done, the source says. This same source adds that as of March 1979, more than a year after the loan was made, Lance had not paid any interest or principal on the $3.6 million.

In addition to the loan, Lance reportedly has been paid a handsome retainer by BCCI, allegedly for his help in finding investment opportunities for BCCI's Arab interests.

For a time, Lance was provided with a private plane and pilot for domestic trips, again apparently financed by BCCI. And over the months Lance has traveled extensively, meeting with his associates in London, on the Continent and in Karachi.

Often, his wife and one of their four sons go on these trips with Lance. One son, David, works at the Lance Co., as the new business is called. Lance maintains a large home in Calhoun, and a country house-business office with a tennis court a few miles outside of town. Weekends and holidays are spent at the family bench house at Sea Island, the elegant resort on the south Georgia coast.

He even has retained the 50-room, white-columned mansion here in Atlanta, for which he paid about $500,000 in 1975, when he became president of NBG. Christened "Butterfly Manna" by LaBellee Lance, it was offered for sale some months ago for $2 million.

Federal investigators and even Lance intimates here and in Calhoun say they have no idea what Lance is doing for the Arabs in exchange for their help in maintaining his life-style and taking over his debts.

In any case, Lance caused a furor among this city's sizable Jewish community last summer when he was quoted in The Journal-Constitution Sunday magazine ruminating about what he saw as a bias in the United States against Arab investors.

"I don't know whether all the hurrah stems from the great Jewish ownership of the press or not," he said.

Later, during one of his occasional TV commentaries on a local Atlanta station, Lance apologized for the remark, saying: "I did not perceive this to be an offensive remark. . ."

Lance's only publicized business efforts on behalf of Arab interests so far turned out to be a public relations fiasco, which put him in more hot water with federal authorities.

In February 1978, a month after his debts were shifted to BCCI, Lance came back to Washington on behalf of his new associates, who were seeking control of Financial General Bank-shares Inc., then a $2.2 billion Washington-based banking company.

Curiously, Financial General's offices are at 1701 Pennsylvania Ave. just across the street from the White House and from Lance's old offices as budget director. Lance was to become chairman of Financial Generral, with an office only a few hundred feet away from his old friend, Jimmy Carter.

But in March 1978, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was winding up an investigation of Lance's banking practices in Georgia, stepped into the Financial General deal. The agency sued Lance and his associates, claiming that they had been violating federal securities laws by buying more than 5 percent of the stock in the banking company without disclosing their purchases.

Lance supposedly has backed away from the Financial General affair, but his associates are continuing to seek control. The present management is waging a costly court fight and publicity campaign against Lance and his Arab partners.

More recently Lance's name appeared in yet another federal case involving Arab interests.

Last month, in a Justice Department civil suit against two U.S. businessmen accused of paying a bribe to an official of an oil-rich country in the Midle East, Lance was described as having used his White House connections on their behalf.

The suit says that after the Americans paid a $1.5 million bribe to Qatar's director of petroleum in 1976, a new official took over and canceled the concession granted them by his bribed predecessor.

Lance was not named a defendant in the case, but the Justice Department said he had called the White House on behalf of the American businessmen, in February 1978. This led to a meeting in Qatar, albeit an unsuccessful one, between the businessmen, the U.S. ambassador and the new director of petroleum.

One of the Americans, former Georgia politican Eugene Holley, had introduced Lance to BCCI's Abedi only a few moths before. It was this introduction that led to the $3.6 million loan to Lance.

In April 1978 the SEC concluded its nine-month probe of Lance's banking practices. It filed a civil suit charging him and the two banks he ran, NBG and Calhoun First National, with "fraud and deceit."

The SEC complaint, to which Lance and the banks consented without admitting or denying the allegations, formed the groundwork for the more complex criminal case filed today.

On March 20, 1978, Lance finally turned in a diplomatic passport, issued to him while he was still in government. The document had allowed him to pass through custms without search for months after he left the administration.

Lance apparently has retained the staff pass that gives him access to the White House and the adjacent Old Executive Office Building. But he has not been seen at the White House by reporters for several months.

While Lane did not remain in the administration long enough to fashion any legislation, he can take sme credit for one major law enacted by the last Congress.

After years of frustration, sponsors managed to get passed tough new regulations against self-dealing by bankers. Sponsors say that the revelations about Lance's banking affairs were responsible for passage of the act.