Financier Claus von Bulow, once one of the late billionaire J. Paul Getty's lieutenants, has been indicated by a Newport, R.I. grand jury on charges to trying to murder his wealthy wife.

Von Bulow, 54, a figure in the international social scene, is accused of injecting his wife, Martha, 49 with insulin that has left her in a coma in Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York since January. The indictment was handed up Monday night.

Friends described Mrs. von Bulow as a vegetable with no hope of recovery.

A spokesman for the Rhode Island attorney general said an investigation began after members of Mrs. von Bulow's family contacted state police last spring and voiced suspicions about events leading to her hospitalization. He declined to name the persons involved.

Mrs. von Bulow was previously married to Prince Alfie von Auersperg, with whom she had two children. She is a member of the Crawford family, which draws its wealth from utilities in Pittsburgh.

Her mother, Mrs. Russell Aitken, is one of Newport's grand dames, and there were reports that she has been trying to gain custody of the von Bulows' daughter, Cosima, 14.

Von Bulow, an aristocrat of Danish extraction, is a vice president of the pestigious Preservation Society of Newport County.

The von Bulows have homes on Fifth Avenue here and on the mansion-lined Bellevue Avenue in Newport. The von Bulow mansion was used in the filming of the movie "High Society."

Eight years ago, the von Bulows bought a second estate between their mansion, Clarendon Court, and the water, tore down the building and had the football-field-sized lawn lowered 17 feet to improve a view of the ocean. They also built a $150,000 swimming pool.

Von Bulow, reached at his New York home today, declined comment, but his lawyer, John F. Sheehan of Providence, said the financier was "devastated" by the indictments.

A spokesman for the attorney general said that Mrs. von Bulow suffers from hypoglycemia -- low blood sugar -- and charged that her husband twice injected her with insulin, which would exacerbate her condition.

Sheehan said Mrs. von Bulow was twice treated for reactive hypoglycemia before she was admitted to the hospital.

The indictment charges von Bulow with assault with intent to murder on two dates: Dec. 27, 1979 and Dec. 21, 1980.

The von Bulows used to spend Christmases at their Newport home.

On the first date, it was charged, Mrs. von Bulow was rushed to Newport Hospital with heart failure, and high concentrations of barbiturates and alcohol were found in her blood.

On the second date, she was taken to the hospital for treatment of hypoglycemia.

Von Bulow is scheduled to be arraigned in Providence County Superior Court next Tuesday. Newport Superior Court is in summer recess.