George Washington University professor Paul Arthur Crafton was "a true chameleon of identities" who spent money freely on property in Canada and the United States and used an assortment of names to arrange international business deals, a Pennsylvania prosecutor told a county court here today.

Deputy Attorney General Kim Daniel presented a tale of intrigue that switched from New Zealand to Switzerland, included a Swiss bank account and apparently fraudulent federal income tax returns in several names for several hundred thousand dollars and revolved around "what appeared to be paper corporations" involved in worldwide ventures from gold trading to an "intercontinental oil drilling" agreement.

But the main theme of the prosecutor's presentation was Crafton's apparent ability to trade in identities--from his "collection of photo identification cards, charge cards, credit cards and bank cards," Daniel said, to his authentic copies of other people's academic degrees from such prestigious British universities as Oxford, Birmingham, Southampton, Leeds, Manchester and Queens College of the University of Belfast.

The prosecution's presentation was based on documents taken last week from an apartment Crafton maintained here. No attempt was made to explain the significance of each document it presented in court or to link them to explain the chronology of Crafton's actions during the past several years.

Each document was identified by Daniel P. Bodan, a special agent in the Pennsylvania Attorney General Office's Bureau of Criminal Investigations who arrested Crafton and later conducted the search of his apartment.

At today's hearing, Crafton's lawyer, John Pyfer Jr., was seeking a reduction in Crafton's combined $300,000 cash bail. Pyfer said last week that Crafton is needed at his Potomac residence to help care for his daughter, Laura Melanie Crafton, a victim of cerebral palsy.

Daniel said at the beginning of his presentation today that he sought to show that Crafton had traveled abroad frequently using assumed names and that his continued incarceration was necessary to make certain that the professor would be at future court dates.

Crafton, 59, is charged with theft by deception, tampering with official records and forgery in connection with teaching positions he held at two Pennsylvania state colleges, allegedly using false identities. In all, he now is charged with a total of 27 criminal counts.

Throughout Daniel's presentation before Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, his daughter sat in a wheelchair off to the side of her father. Crafton's wife, Sonia, also accompanied her husband.

After meeting with the two lawyers during a 55-minute recess, Buckwalter abruptly ended today's session, sending a court administrator into the courtroom to announce that the judge "will hand down a ruling tomorrow."

Much of what was detailed in court today had already been alleged by the Pennsylvania authorities, based on materials that were seized in Crafton's apartment. However, further questions about Crafton's past were raised by some of the new documents presented today as exhibits. Among the documents were:

* Copies of federal income tax forms filed during the past four years. These included a 1977 return showing Arthur van B. Holland, one of the names used by Crafton, had a gross adjusted income of $43,258.98; a 1978 tax return showing Holland had an income of $48,432.32; the 1981 income tax return showing that Anthony S. Williams, another name used by Crafton, had an income of $97,595.55 and claimed a tax credit of $10,136.49; and 1981 tax returns in the names of John Byron Hext and John Michael Ashworth, showing the same income and tax credit as the 1981 Williams return.

* An apparently original birth certificate of Ashworth and a certified copy of the birth certificate of Bruce Craig Beetham, now a member of the New Zealand Parliament.

* Tax statements from municipalities in Quebec showing that Crafton owned three parcels of property there; a partial payment for a tax bill for land in Nova Scotia and a land sale agreement between Beetham and Richard Nash for a lot near Front Royal, Va.

* A certificate from the Universal Christian Church of Louisville showing that Peter D. W. Connaught, another Crafton alias, was ordained as a minister in the church on Nov. 24, 1976.

* What was described as "personal correspondence" to two women describing his travels in Europe.

* An answer from a Swiss banking company to an inquiry by Holland about possible banks in the United States that the Swiss firm might have for sale. These included two in the Atlanta metropolitan area; records indicating that Holland had closed an account at a Swiss bank in June 1982 and inquiries from Holland about the possible purchase of a Swiss company, with an asking price of $200,000 French francs.

The prosecutors also presented a copy of a passport application in the name of Williams that showed a planned December 1982 departure for four weeks of travel in Europe. In addition, the prosecutors presented as exhibits packets of credit card receipt slips for purchases by Holland in Basel, Switzerland, during the summers of 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981.

In persuading Judge Buckwalter to overturn repeated objections by Crafton's attorney, Daniel reiterated that he felt the documents were needed to "demonstrate this particular person's ability and willingness to misrepresent his identity."