WASHINGTON (AP) _ A fund-raiser who is at the heart of the investigation into foreign donations to Democrats may have planned to flee overseas, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

The attorney for Yah Lin ``Charlie'' Trie argued that his client _ upset over his legal troubles and his wife's recent death _ simply made a mistake when he applied for a Taiwanese passport, and the judge declined to jail Trie but ordered new restrictions on his freedom.

Trie applied for the passport two weeks ago _ a day after he was last in court for a hearing on federal conspiracy, obstruction of justice and witness tampering charges related to his work for the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Justice Department attorney Geoffrey Hobart said the FBI ``got lucky'' when it received a tip about the passport application and that unless Trie is jailed there is little to stop him from trying again. Trie, a Clinton friend and former restaurateur in Little Rock, Ark., is free pending the first of two trials on campaign-related charges.

``The timing is very odd,'' Hobart argued at a hurriedly scheduled hearing. ``It's beyond comprehension that Mr. Trie was unaware he was not supposed to have a passport.''

Trie, who was born in China and has relatives in Taiwan, fled overseas when congressional fund-raising investigations began in 1997. He returned voluntarily in February and pleaded innocent to the charges. He was released on a personal recognizance bond and surrendered his U.S. passport, along with an expired Taiwanese one.

Defense lawyer Reid Weingarten said Trie blundered by applying for a new passport, but never intended to flee. Trie instead hoped to get paperwork started for an eventual permanent move to Taiwan when his legal troubles are over, Weingarten said.

``Locking him up right now in anticipation of this trial, I think, is grossly unfair and inappropriate,'' Weingarten argued, and an overreaction ``to a mistake in judgment based on his lack of understanding of the system.''

Trie, who opened an international consulting business after Clinton's election, is unemployed, essentially friendless and living as a houseguest with a sister in Virginia Beach, Va., Weingarten said. Trie is dejected at his legal plight and despondent over the recent death of his wife, Weingarten told the judge.

``His life is shattered. He has no life.''

Trie is charged with giving and arranging illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee to buy access to Clinton and other top officials.

Trie also faces a separate trial in Arkansas in April for allegedly ordering an associate to hide documents subpoenaed during a Senate campaign finance investigation.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman mused aloud that his trust might be misplaced but refused to jail Trie. Friedman, who will oversee Trie's trial in September, did order new restrictions, including a curfew.

``I'm troubled by this. If I'm wrong in placing my faith in him, then the consequences are that he may leave the country and we may not be able to get him back,'' Friedman said.

Trie is one of several foreign-born business owners charged as part of the Justice Department's investigation into campaign finance abuses.

Trie opened an international business consulting company after Clinton became president and frequently attended Democratic fund-raising dinners that featured Clinton or Vice President Al Gore.

Democrats returned $645,000 that Trie either donated or raised after determining the money came from questionable and possibly illegal sources. Clinton's former legal defense fund returned $640,000 in contributions from Trie.