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Chesapeake audit committee chair resigns board

(Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp said the chairman of its audit committee has stepped down as planned following the completion of the company's probe into the financial dealings of outgoing Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon.

V. Burns Hargis, the president of Oklahoma State University, said in June he would resign after winning fewer than one-quarter of shareholder votes cast for his re-election to the board.

As audit committee chief, Hargis headed the board's investigation into McClendon's potential conflicts, so he remained as a director until that probe was completed.

Much of the committee's attention focused on a controversial perk granting McClendon a stake in every well the company drilled. The probe was completed in February and found no "intentional" wrongdoing on the part of McClendon.

Michael Garland, a New York City official who is the leading shareholder activist for the city's pension funds, said Hargis' departure was overdue and "closes a costly chapter for the Chesapeake board, which must now focus like a laser on restoring long-term shareowner value."

New York City holds 1.7 million shares of Chesapeake stock valued at $33 million.

The chairman of Chesapeake's board, Archie Dunham, said Hargis led the audit committee and the recent review with the "utmost professionalism and integrity".

Louis Raspino, chief executive of oil and gas service company Pride International Inc before its 2011 merger with Ensco Plc, was elected to replace Hargis, the company said in a release, adding that he had also been appointed chairman of the audit committee.

Raspino will stand for re-election at the company's shareholder meeting in June.

Chesapeake and McClendon are under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the company's Founder Well Participation Program perk for McClendon. The company also faces a U.S. Department of Justice probe into possible antitrust violations for land deals the company made in Michigan.

Chesapeake shares closed 5.6 percent higher at $20.85 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.

(Reporting by Anna Driver in New York and Krishna N. Das in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Supriya Kurane, Alden Bentley and Steve Orlofsky)