Volkswagen’s former boss and four others have been indicted on charges of fraud and unfair competition over the firm’s efforts to cheat diesel emission tests.
Martin Winterkorn faces four charges, with prosecutors saying he failed to prevent the manipulation of Volkswagen engines that enabled the cars to falsify results.
Mr Winterkorn led the German car maker in 2015 when it was revealed it had installed software to manipulate emissions results as far back as 2009.
German prosecutors said on Monday that Mr Winterkorn knew about the software since at least 25 May 2014, despite public statements that he only became aware just before the scandal broke in September the following year.
If convicted, he and the others accused face between six months and 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors said bonuses could also be forfeited, ranging from between €300,000 (£258,805) to €11m (£9.5m).
Mr Winterkorn, who quit VW at the height of the scandal, is already facing criminal charges in the US over ‘dieselgate’ along with 13 others.
However, he is unlikely to see a day in court there because America has no extradition treaty with Germany.
Volkswagen has paid more than €27bn (£23.3bn) in fines and settlements in the months and years since being caught.
The emissions scandal also spread to cast doubt over other German car manufacturers.
The European Commission opened an investigation in September last year into the possibility that BMW, Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler and the Volkswagen Group “colluded to avoid competition on the development and roll-out of technology to clean the emissions of petrol and diesel passenger cars”.
At the time, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that “if proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers”.