July 10 (Reuters) - A judge in Michigan has ruled that Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. must face a criminal trial on a charge of bid-rigging with competitor Encana Corp at a 2010 state land lease auction, citing evidence of a conspiracy between the companies that drove state lease prices down sharply.
The ruling, issued on Wednesday by Judge Maria Barton of Michigan's Cheboygan County District Court, dismissed two other criminal charges brought against Chesapeake by the office of Michigan's Attorney General. The two other charges alleged that the company struck a deal with Encana to avoid competing for land leases from private landowners in Michigan, and had attempted antitrust violations against those landowners.
"The direct and circumstantial evidence established that the parties did in fact strike an agreement to bid-rig the State sale," Barton's ruling says. (Reporting By Joshua Schneyer in New York and Brian Grow in Atlanta, Editing by Franklin Paul)