BERLIN — German prosecutors on Monday charged Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s former chief executive, with aggravated fraud for his role in the automaker’s efforts to deceive regulators about its vehicles’ diesel exhaust levels.
In announcing the criminal case against Mr. Winterkorn and four other Volkswagen managers who were not named, the public prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig linked the charges to events that ran from 2006, when it said the deception was initially conceived, to 2015, when it came to light.
The prosecutor’s office said Mr. Winterkorn continued to conceal the emissions fraud even after he was told that outsiders were questioning the company’s emissions data. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Winterkorn, who stepped down as Volkswagen’s chief executive in 2015, has previously denied any wrongdoing. Felix Dörr, a lawyer for him, said on Monday that the prosecutor’s office had not given his team sufficient access to the files for it to comment on the charges.
In March, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Volkswagen accusing the company of defrauding American investors. The commission said in the suit that Mr. Winterkorn had been aware of what it called a “massive” emissions fraud as early as November 2007.
In May 2018, the Justice Department indicted Mr. Winterkorn and several other Volkswagen executives on charges that they conspired in the rigging of diesel vehicles to feign compliance with federal pollution standards.
The German prosecutor’s office also charged Mr. Winterkorn with approving a useless software update in 2014 at a cost of 23 million euros (around $26 million) despite knowing that it would not eliminate the so-called defeat device technology Volkswagen employed to cheat emissions tests.