The advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell reignited the row over corporate tax after he described the amount big companies pay as "a question of judgement".
The comments, in an interview with the BBC, sparked a furious response from tax campaigners amid a public outcry over the way multinationals such as Starbucks, and Amazon have avoided paying UK corporation tax.
Sir Martin, the chief executive of WPP, said: "The right model is you make a contribution. All contributions you make to your stakeholders are a question of judgement. There are the rules. If companies choose to make a contribution to all the stakeholders, all credit to them."
Referring to Starbucks' voluntary payment of £20m to the UK Exchequer he argued firms interested in building long-term brands would not "do things that will upset consumers" in markets where they operate.
But critics accused Sir Martin, pictured with his wife, Cristiana Falcone Sorrell, of missing the point. Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research, said, "Sorrell is assuming companies can decide which law in which country they wish to comply with. That's not true." Frances O'Grady, director-general of the TUC, said: "It's increasingly clear that some businesses see their obligations as an optional extra. WPP has just moved its tax headquarters back from Dublin to the UK.