BALTIMORE -- Sentencing of convicted Iran-contra figure Thomas G. Clines was abruptly postponed last week after defense attorneys asked for time to respond to prosecution claims that Clines may have understated his financial condition to court officials.

Paula M. Junghans, an attorney for Clines, told U.S. District Judge Norman P. Ramsey that a prosecution letter to federal probation officers contains "incorrect allegations" that Clines was "less than truthful" with them.

She said she received her copy of the letter less than 24 hours earlier and needed time to formulate a written response.

Ramsey agreed to defer sentencing to Dec. 13.

Neither Junghans nor attorneys for the office of independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, which prosecuted Clines on false tax information charges here, would disclose the 13-page letter filed with the probation office and Ramsey.

Junghans indicated it relates to a presentence report prepared by probation officers to assist Ramsey in sentencing Clines.

Such reports usually are not part of the public file.

Ramsey, referring to the letter at a brief hearing Thursday, said prosecutors believe there has been "a remarkable decline in the apparent financial condition of the defendant in a period of one year, a lot of which apparently is accountable by transfers of property, which is somewhat in keeping with what has occurred in the past."

Asked if the letter claimed Clines was attempting to hide assets, prosecutor Stuart A. Abrams refused to comment.

The probation office, in recommending sentences to judges, often attempts to determine a defendant's financial worth for possible fines and forfeitures.

Clines, a former CIA agent and member of a secret White House network that sold arms to Nicaraguan contra rebels when such sales were outlawed by Congress, was convicted Sept. 18 of filing false income tax returns and failing to file reports on foreign financial accounts in 1985 and 1986.

A key figure in the operation set up by former White House aide Oliver L. North, Clines was accused of failing to disclose $260,000 in arms sales profits. He faces up to 16 years in prison and $1 million in fines.