The trustee liquidating Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc's brokerage unit asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to set aside $18.3 billion (11.7 billion pounds) of assets to be returned to customers beginning early next year.

That payout represents more than three-fourths of the $23.7 billion of assets controlled by James Giddens, the trustee for the Lehman Brothers Inc unit, according to a filing late Thursday in the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan.

Giddens made his request just days before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck, who oversees the bankruptcy, is expected at a December 6 hearing to approve Lehman's reorganization plan.

The plan would return about $65 billion to creditors starting early next year. Lehman this week said the plan has overwhelming creditor support.

Of the $23.7 billion that Giddens controls, $12.7 billion are securities and $11 billion is cash. Lehman was the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank prior to its September 15, 2008 bankruptcy, the largest Chapter 11 filing in U.S. history.

The great bulk of the assets that will be available for distribution ... are now in hand, Giddens said in the court filing. The trustee would like to be in a position to proceed with interim distributions to customers in early 2012.

Soon after Lehman's bankruptcy, Giddens distributed $92.3 billion to benefit customers holding 110,000 accounts. Many accounts were absorbed by Barclays Plc and asset manager Neuberger Berman.

Giddens is also liquidating the broker-dealer unit of MF Global Holdings Ltd , a futures brokerage once run by former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs chief Jon Corzine. Customer distributions in that case are a small fraction of those in Lehman's bankruptcy.

According to Thursday's filing, about $11.6 billion of the proposed $18.3 billion payout is considered core customer property, while other sums are intended to address various compliance failures.

The trustee is also setting aside $1 billion for the Lehman Brothers International (Europe) affiliate.

Giddens plans to keep $3.07 billion of assets in reserve pending the outcome of litigation with Barclays. The British bank bought much of Lehman's investment banking business.

A hearing to approve Giddens' request is scheduled for January 25, 2012.

Lehman's Chapter 11 plan reflects a compromise with creditor groups that had proposed their own plans.

These groups included bondholders such as the Paulson & Co hedge fund and the California Public Employees' Retirement System pension fund, and derivatives creditors such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley .

The case is Securities Investor Protection Corp v. Lehman Brothers Inc. U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-01420.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Nick Brown in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Dave Zimmerman)