The New York Times reported Monday that Novartis plans to pay Chairman Daniel Vasella, who is leaving the company, $78 million over six years for not divulging what he knows to rival companies.
Vasella said in a statement that the sum was in line with market value and that he would use the money "for philanthropic activities."
The sum has elicited some harsh criticism, however. Swiss federal Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga was quoted as saying the size of the pay was an "enormous blow for the social cohesion of our country."
The sum was "beyond evil," said Christian Democratic People's Party President Christophe Darbellay.
The severance plan was revealed just two weeks before Swiss voters are to decide a referendum that would give shareholders power of deciding executive pay.