The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday filed suit in federal court here charging R.J. Reynolds Industries Inc. with paying approximately $25 million in illegal rebates, political contributions, and kickbacks to foreign officials between 1967 and 1976.

The Winston-Salem company already had disclosed payments voluntarily in filings with the SEC.An SEC official said the agency decided to file suit anyway because of the large amount of money involved. The commision got the court to enjoin Reynolds formally from an such activities in the future. The court also agreed to the appointment of a special officer to examine the company's records.

Simultaneous with the filing of the complaint in U.S. District Court, Reynolds settled the action without admitting or denying the SEC allegations.

According to the complaint, senior executives of Reynolds maintained a "secret cash fund" of about $150,000 to make "unlawful political contributions" between 1967 and 1976.

The payments often were disguised by running the funds through ficitious foreign accounts, the SEC said.

Reynolds and five other unnamed tobacco companies hired a Washington lobbyist who distributed funds "to several congressional and presidential election campaigns," the compalaint said.

In another section of the complaint, the SEC said that Reynolds' wholly owned shipping subsidiary, Sea-Land Services Inc., "paid a total of approximately $19.2 million in illegal rebates world-wide."

Last year. Sea Land - which operates world's largest containerized fleet - was fined $4 million by the Federal Maritime Commission for making illegal rebates.

In April, the shipper pleaded guilty in Newark to making illegal rebates.

The SEC said that Reynolds paid more than $5 million to lower-level and middle level employes of companies controlled by foreign governments.

The SEC complaint does not name the recipients or the countries involved.