Prosecutors in Braunschweig announced Monday that Winterkorn was one of five people indicted in a case related to the automaker’s diesel emissions-cheating scandal.
Winterkorn has been accused of a particularly serious fraud, according to a statement from prosecutors. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The former CEO was also charged with embezzlement and violating competition law. He could be ordered to repay bonuses he received as a reward for sales.
Felix Dörr, a lawyer for Winterkorn, said that he would only be able to comment on the charges when he had read the full indictment.
Prosecutors said they had submitted the indictment and 75,000 pages of additional evidence to a court in Braunschweig that will decide whether Winterkorn will stand trial.
Another 36 people remain under investigation.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission also announced last month that it was suing Volkswagen and Winterkorn, accusing them of carrying out “a massive fraud.”
The market regulator said that Volkswagen and Winterkorn fraudulently raised billions of dollars from investors, including by overplaying the firm’s environmental credentials.
Sales of Volkswagen diesel cars are now rebounding in Germany. Some 43% of all Volkswagen brand cars sold in Germany last year were diesel, close to their pre-scandal share of 49%.
Chris Liakos and Stephanie Halasz contributed to this article.