Giant multinationals have been accused of "immoral" tax avoidance in the UK at a fiery showdown with a Commons spending watchdog over their corporate affairs.
Starbucks, Google and Amazon were subjected to a three-hour grilling by MPs over how they pay little or no corporation tax on their vast UK operations. All denied allegations they were engaged in aggressive tax avoidance and were met with derision from members of the public accounts select committee.
Starbucks insisted it was "an extremely high taxpayer" globally and acted "to an ethical" as well as a legal standard, despite declaring losses on its UK operation.
Its global chief financial officer Troy Alstead said criticism from Prime Minister David Cameron was "disappointing" as he defended exploiting low tax rates in Holland and Switzerland.
Matt Brittin, CEO of Google UK, insisted it would be "very hard" for it to pay more tax here under present rules, saying the firm's profitable activity was mainly US-based.
But the committee's severest verbal mauling was reserved for Amazon public policy director Andrew Cecil, who it was said was not a "serious person" after he failed to give key information. Chair Margaret Hodge accused him of feigning ignorance and said she would order Amazon to send another executive to give evidence.
Starbucks has reported a profit from its UK business only once in 15 years, something Mrs Hodge said "just doesn't ring true" and could only be a tax dodge.
Mr Alstead denied lying to shareholders, blaming an over-aggressive entry to the UK market which had left it with expensive properties that did not make money. "It is fundamentally true, everything we are saying and everything we have said historically," he told the committee.
He conceded that a tax deal struck with the Dutch authorities - that he declined to detail - was "an attractive reason" for basing the coffee company's operations there. "Respectfully, I can assure you there is no tax avoidance here," Mr Alstead told MPs.
A chunk of UK branch profits - 6% reduced to 4.7% in what one MPs called a "cosmetic" deal with HMRC - is transferred there as a dividend, meaning there is no profit to declare. It also charges a 20% mark-up on coffee which it buys via Switzerland where it pays 12% tax.