BERLIN (AP) _ East Germany's former Communists claimed Friday their democratic rights were trampled when a small army of police raided their headquarters in a fruitless hunt for criminal evidence.

About 150 armed lawmen burst into the headquarters shortly before midnight Thursday to search for clues to allegations that the party had recently funneled $65 million into the Soviet Union.

However, a Berlin prosecutor, speaking on condition of anyonymity, said the raid at the party's Berlin offices turned up no such information.

The former Communists have renamed their organization the Party of Democratic Socialism.

The raid was the latest action by the united German government in its effort to sift through the remains of the authoritarian government that ruled East Germany for 40 years.

There is widespread belief that Communists in the often corrupt former government squirreled away billions in property, cash and valuables in the waning days of their rule.

The raid came on the first anniversary of Erich Honecker's ouster as Communist leader of the hard-line government.

Gregor Gysi, the current party leader who also holds a Parliament seat in the united Germany, denounced the raids as illegal and an infringement on the democratic rights of party members.

He claimed that persecution of former Communist Party members, whose current party now professes a form of democratic socialism, would only serve to radicalize them.

''I'm exhausted with this daily struggle to destroy us,'' he said.

The raid also drew criticism from the left-leaning Social Democrats, Germany's main opposition party; and the Free Democrats, who are part of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's governing coaliton.

Martin Hirsch, a former Supreme Court judge and Social Democrat, said the raid was tantamount to ''attacking gnats with iron bars.''

''The (party of former Communists) is in fact a political opposition, but it is not outlawed,'' Burkhard Hirsch, spokesman on law enforcement matters for the Free Democrats, said in an interview released before publication of the Cologne Express newspaper.

Berlin Interior Senator Erich Paetzold said authorities received a tip on Thursday that the party was making a big money transfer to the Soviet Union.

A police spokesman said the raid was necessary ''because of the danger of delay.''

Gysi said the money was transferred to the Soviet Union to cover living expenses for German students the party had sponsored in that country.

He said such payments were an ''old financial burden'' inherited from the former Communist Party.

Gysi's office was among those searched by 150 police officers wearing bulletproof vests. The party's headquarters is near Alexanderplatz, the central square of former East Berlin.

Also searched was the office of Hans Modrow, former premier of the Communist caretaker government that ran East Germany after the old hard-line government was ousted by mass demonstrations last year.

Gysi, Modrow and 23 other members of the former Communist Party are members of the united German Parliament. East German lawmakers were added to the West German legislature when the two nations united on Oct. 3.

The former Communists finished third in East Germany's first free elections in March.

The united Germany has been struggling with how to deal with the remains of the old Stalinist order that ruled the eastern territory with an iron fist.

Lawmakers are debating whether to grant amnesty to the thousands of people who worked for the notorious secret police.

They are also weighing criminal charges agains the old leaders.