The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday announced that it will make public the names of the recipients of questionable and illegal payments from U.S. corporations.

Until now, corporations reporting such payments under the commission's voluntary disclosure program have not been required to make public the names of recipients.

The commission agreed to reveal the names in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

In a Dec. 15 letter to the SEC the Post requested "the names of recipients -- both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals -- of questionable or illegal payments from U.S. corporations uncovered in SEC investigations that began in February 1975."

The SEC said "certain portions of the records" of companies would be made public "where there is no longer any law enforcement interest in the records."

Records will not be available until May 17, however, to give the commission time to notify the corporations whose records will be released.

The SEC has records of payments involving about 350 companies. It is possible that some of these corporations will go to court and attempt to block exposure of the names of recipients.

When the corporate filings become public, they are expected to show that prominent individuals in the U.S. and abroad received payments to facilitate sales of products by American companies.

So far, only a few names of alleged recipients have been revealed, mainly from investigations into the Lockheed scandal by foreign governments.

The SEC refused yesterday to reveal what companies are being notified -- by phone and then by mail --that their files will be made public.

None of the companies still under investation will have their files opened. As investigations are completed, the records dealing with questionable or illegal payments will be released, the SEC said.

However, release of the files on some completed cases will be delayed until the commission staff makes a detailed review of their contents, an SEC attorney said.