Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn was charged alongside four other managers in Germany for their role in the diesel-rigging scandal.
Winterkorn and other suspects are accused of serious fraud by Braunschweig prosecutors, who allege he knew since 2014 about the illegal use of software to cheat emissions tests.
The prosecutors commented Monday in an emailed statement.
They are the first criminal charges in Germany.
The 71-year-old was indicted by American authorities in 2017. Allegations that VW wrongfully withheld information about the emission software used in its diesel cars have loomed over the company since the scandal first broke in 2015.
The crisis involved as many as 11 million diesel cars worldwide and has cost the Wolfsburg-based company about 28 billion euros ($32 billion) so far.
Winterkorn's lawyer Felix Doerr said he couldn't immediately comment. The other four suspects weren't identified.
Prosecutors allege that Winterkorn condoned a "useless" update of the vehicles' computer software in November 2014 to help veil the scam.
The shares of VW rose 0.5%, to 157.25 euros at 13:17 in Germany.
Shares have risen 18% so far this year.