MOSCOW (AP) _ A senior editor on Wednesday likened a corruption scandal to a Soviet Watergate and said it has stirred Soviet popular opinion.

But Yegor Yakovlev, editor of the weekly Moscow News, warned in his column against ''unjust methods'' to obtain ''just results.''

''Passions are inflamed. Could it be that our own home-grown Watergate is starting to burn?'' Yakovlev asked, referring to the scandal surrounding two criminal investigators who have mentioned former members of the ruling Politburo in an inquiry into corruption.

One investigator, Nikolai Ivanov, said on Friday that the name of Politburo member Yegor K. Ligachev also came up in the inquiry. He did not go into details.

Ligachev has denied the allegations and called the statement slanderous and ''a political provocation,'' the Novosti press agency said Tuesday. Ivanov is being investigated in the Supreme Soviet Presidium for alleged abuses of power.

Yakovlev's column focused on crime-fighter Telman Gdlyan, Ivanov's boss. Gdlyan and Ivanov gained national fame in their clean-up of a corruption case that began with an Uzbek collective farm chairman and spread to include top regional officials and the son-in-law of late Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev.

A Supreme Court probe found that in a separate case in 1983, Gdlyan helped convict an innocent man, an eminent Estonian scientist who died in prison. The court has asked the prosecutor's office to consider dismissing Gdlyan.

But the people are behind Gdlyan, Yakovlev said.

''As I write these lines, under the windows of the editorial offices the crowd is whistling, and from hand to hand passes a petition not to remove the investigator from the work he has already begun,'' he wrote.

And when Yakovlev said at a public meeting that he could not forgive Gdlyan for his handling of Johannes Hint, the Estonian scientist, he was drowned out by the whistles, stamping and shouting of the irritated crowd.

Yakovlev protested that the Soviet public must learn that ''we mustn't obtain just results with unjust methods.''

''We've all come out of decades of lawlessness. They cost us so dearly that people are prepared to fight lawlessness on the principle that any means are all right,'' he wrote.

Yakovlev emphasized that Gdlyan was not the only one to blame for Hint's death: He came onto the case late, and the court convicted Hint.