Yale World Fellow Alexey Navalny, a Moscow-based lawyer and activist who works to expose corruption in Russian companies, is facing a criminal investigation that could land him in jail for up to five years, Bloomberg reported.

Navalny is charged with arranging a contract for a state timber company that he knew in advance would make the company lose money. The company lost over 1 million rubles from the contract, according to Bloomberg, equivalent to US $32,700.

He is being investigated for “causing damage through fraud or abuse of trust” and is accused of deceiving the company at the same time as he was advising the regional government on transparency in business operations.

Navalny refuted the charges in an interview with Bloomberg Dec. 15, as he prepared to leave New Haven after his six-month stint as a world fellow. He said he sees himself as another Julian Assange, exposing Russian companies’ activities as Assange exposes politicians on WikiLeaks, and suggesting he was being unfairly targeted by those hostile to his work.

Established by University President Richard Levin in 2002, the Yale World Fellows program brings 14-18 “highly accomplished men and women” from around the globe to campus each year, according to the program website. Navalny is known for representing minority shareholders in large Russian businesses in legal battles, and has worked to increase corporate transparency.

Correction: January 15, 2011

An earlier version of this post misreported the date that the World Fellows program was established. It was established in 2001.