(Adds meeting in Accra today, government criticism, shares)
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Ashanti Goldfields Co Ltd [AGC.GH] on Monday ditched its chief financial officer, Mark Keatley, as the Ghana government convened talks in Accra to seek a new board line-up for the troubled mining company.
Ghana's biggest company, which lost a court battle with dissident shareholders last week, said Keatley would step down after the next annual general meeting on April 26.
Disgruntled investors, led by Adryx Mining and Metals Ltd, had demanded Keatley should go following $570 million of gold hedging losses which brought the firm to the brink of default.
The company also confirmed the resignation of Ghanaian Finance Minister Richard Kwame Peprah as chairman and said that Phillip Tarsh, its senior independent non-executive director, whould take over as acting chair.
Ashanti is under mounting pressure after an Accra court ruling last week ordered it to hold an extraordinary shareholders' meeting -- scheduled for March 3 -- to consider demands for board changes and the sale or part-sale of assets.
Both the dissident shareholders and the government say the firm has mismanaged a liquidity crisis caused by a spike up in gold prices last October.
"Why did management wait so long to implement solutions which they were advised of last year? Because of delay, Ashanti is currently engaged in very delicate negotations with the members of its banking syndicate," the government said in a statement received here.
SHARES SINK TO $2, NEW LOW
Ashanti -- which was blocked by the government from pursuing its favoured option of merging with Lonmin Plc [LMI.L] -- said the comments from the government, which holds a 20 percent stake and golden share in Ashanti, were regrettable.
Shares in the company, which were floated at $20 in 1994, sank to a new low of $2 as the market fretted its future was now hanging in the balance.
Ashanti had been due to sign a $100 million loan last Thursday to pay for work on the promising Geita gold project in Tanzania in which it aims to sell a 50 percent stake. But that refinancing plan was thwarted by the court ruling which barred it from any new financial transactions until after the EGM.
The court wrangle has also put back the sale of the Geita stake. Ashanti had requested binding bids from potential buyers -- thought to include Barrick [ABX.TO] and AngloGold [ANGJ.J] -- by February 11. But on Monday it said the timetable would have to be delayed until current uncertainties were resolved.
Time is also running out, once again, on its exemption from paying margin calls on its derivatives book. Earlier this month Ashanti's counterparty banks agreed a further rollover of the deadline, but only until February 17.
Meanwhile, Ashanti faces another court challenge from dissatisfied shareholders, in the United States, where law firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach has launched a class action suit. ((London newsroom +44 171 542 4299, fax +44 171 583 3769, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)) REUTERS Rtr 08:12 02-14-00