HELSINKI, March 14 (Reuters) - Rajeev Suri, the head of Nokia's telecoms network equipment division, is likely to become the Finnish group's next chief executive following the sale of its handset business to Microsoft , a newspaper report said on Friday.
Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, citing sources familiar with board discussions, said Suri was the strongest candidate to succeed Stephen Elop who is due to move to Microsoft once the 5.4 billion euro ($7.5 billion) handset deal is closed.
The companies have been expecting to finalise the deal by the end of March, and the newspaper said the board of Nokia would nominate a new chief executive shortly after that.
Indian-born Suri has been widely considered the leading candidate for the post as in recent years he has helped the network equipment division, Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN), turn profitable with a drastic restructuring plan and by ditching unprofitable businesses.
However, NSN recently reported its fourth-quarter sales fell 22 percent from a year earlier, raising concerns about its growth prospects.
NSN, which was originally a joint venture of Nokia and Siemens, accounts for about 90 percent of Nokia's sales after the handset deal.
Nokia declined to comment on the CEO selection process. Since last autumn, the company has been temporarily led by chief financial officer Timo Ihamuotila.
"We will talk more about the Nokia strategy, structure and organisation around the closing of the pending transaction," said spokeswoman Maija Taimi.