2010 Yale World Fellow Alexey Navalny, a Moscow-based lawyer and a crusader against corruption in Russian state-owned companies, is facing a criminal investigation now that he has returned to Moscow after a semester in New Haven.
Navalny, who publishes documents online to reveal fraud in businesses owned by the Russian government, is charged with giving bad advice to a state timber company in 2009 and causing it to lose 1 million rubles, or $32,700. In an interview with the News on Friday, Navalny dismissed the accusations, calling them an attempt by the government to keep him from
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returning home and continuing his investigations against corporate corruption.
Jonathan Macey, a professor of corporate law at the School of Management, said he was not surprised to hear that Navalny was facing problems with the Russian government.
“He’s agitating for improvements and change, and that upsets a lot of powerful people in Russia,” Macey said.
Yury Isaev, a spokesman for the Russian consulate in San Francisco, Calif., confirmed the charges against Navalny and said the government is currently reviewing the facts. Yevgeny Khorishko, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said he had not heard about the charges.
While at Yale this November, Navalny released a document revealing that Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft had embezzled 4 billion dollars during the construction of a new pipeline, which stretches from East Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. Navalny said the new structure was a special project of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s, intended to bring prestige to Russia in the post-Soviet age.
Navalny published the 300-page document on his blog, where it was read by 1 million people and attracted the ire of international investors. Three weeks later, he learned that the Minister of the Interior was investigating him for “suspicious activity,” he said.
“It was the effect of an exploding bomb when I revealed this report,” he said. “Officials cannot deny my data because it’s not my report; it’s a report by Transneft.”
Navalny said he thinks the charges were intended as a threat and were meant to keep him in the U.S., where it would be difficult for him to continue investigating Transneft and other companies.
Stephen Davis, a senior fellow at the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance at the School of Management, said the Russian government frequently targets those who oppose it.
“The work [Navalny] is [doing] has a lot of risk attached to it,” he said. “There are foreign investors that have been kicked out, there are corporate executives that have been jailed, all against the background of criticism.”
Nevertheless, Navalny returned to Russia, and he said he considers the charges “too ridiculous” to lead to a conviction. The owner of the timber company in question has no complaints against him, Navalny said, but “cannot control the federal police, who said this was a damage for the company.”
Navalny came to Yale as a World Fellow — one of 14 to 18 mid-career men and women from around the globe who come to campus each year to enroll in a special seminar, audit Yale courses and meet U.S. leaders and foreign diplomats. Economics professor Aleh Tsyvinski originally suggested that he participate in the program.
“Alexey is very effective in uncovering and fighting corruption in Russia, but he will be more effective with the world-class knowledge he acquired while at Yale,” Tsyvinski said.
At Yale, Navalny worked with professors at the Law School and the Millstein Center. He said he left with a better knowledge of how to use the international legal system to fight corruption in Russia and improve corporate transparency.
Macey said he was impressed by Navalny’s optimism, and his belief that Russian corporations could become more transparent and less corrupt.
Russia ranks 154th on Transparency International’s 2010 “Corruption Perceptions Index,” tied with Kenya and Tajikistan, among others.