NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch tried to help the Bank of Credit and Commerce International escape Senate scrutiny after the bank pleaded guilty to laundering drug money, a newspaper reported today.

The powerful Utah Republican once stood up on the Senate floor to staunchly defend BCCI's plea agreement with the Justice Department in a money-laundering indictment in Tampa, Fla. Hatch also has acknowledged he asked the bank to lend money to a Houston businessman.

But The New York Times reported today that Hatch was working behind the scenes on behalf of the bank when he pressed BCCI to loan $10 million to the close business associate.

The Times, citing documents and interviews with bank lawyers, said Hatch and an aide were essential parts of BCCI's efforts to escape Senate scrutiny and avoid bad publicity after the bank pleaded guilty in 1989 to the federal charges of drug money laundering.

BCCI is at the center of a worldwide scandal involving alleged drug money laundering, arms trafficking and support of terrorists. It was shut down last year.

Last month, former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and his protege, Washington lawyer Robert Altman, were indicted in the probe. They both pleaded innocent.

BCCI lawyers and the senator's longtime aide, Michael Pillsbury, told the Times that Pillsbury, at Hatch's request, offered the lawyers advice on how to counter another Senate inquiry.

In addition, Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, urged top Justice Deparment officials to publicly defend the plea agreement in the Tampa case. The $15 million fine was widely criticized as overly lenient, sources told the Times.

Hatch has said he made his February 1990 Senate speech defending BCCI after reassurance from the bank's lawyers that the case involved only low-level corruption.

But BCCI lawyers told the newspaper that they were reluctant to meet with Hatch because they feared it would anger the Justice Department. In addition, they said they sat down with Hatch only after pressure from Mohammad Hammoud, a close friend of Hatch and a large BCCI shareholder.

Hammoud died in 1990.

The Times also said Houston entrepreneur Monzer Hourani made a detailed proposal to Hatch requesting a loan from BCCI. Hatch had previously said the request was casual. The loan request was rejected.

Hatch declined to respond in detail to the newspaper's report because he was searching his files for more details of his dealings with BCCI, the senator's staff told the Times.

However, Hatch did say he would ask the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the activities of Pillsbury. Pillsbury said he would welcome such a probe ''to show there were no improper contacts by me,'' according to the Times.