German prosecutors have charged former Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn with fraud over the car manufacturer's emissions scandal.

The former chief executive is one of five people charged in Germany with serious fraud and violation of competition law. These are the first charges to be brought in Germany – where VW is based – in relation to the manipulation of exhaust emissions data.

Authorities in the US have already brought fraud charges against VW and Winterkorn; claiming that senior executives knew about the manipulation of exhaust data but did not inform the markets.

Prosecutors in Germany are alleging that Winterkorn was informed in May 2014 that VW had cheated on emissions tests but then failed to notify regulators or consumers.

Investigations are continuing in Germany into a further 36 individuals in connection with the scandal. Last year, VW was fined €1 billion (£870m) in Germany for rigging diesel emissions tests. So far, it has paid out more than $25bn as a result of the scandal.

Winterkorn resigned shortly after the scandal came to light in September 2015. At the time, he said he was stunned by the scale of misconduct.

Volkswagen admitted that it had used illegal engine control software to cheat US pollution tests between November 2006 and September 2015.

The events took place between November 2006 and September 2015, the prosecutors said, adding that Winterkorn had failed in his duty to inform European and U.S. authorities after it became clear in May 2014 that diesel engines had been manipulated.

This has evolved into one of the biggest scandals to envelop the car industry, with Chrysler, Jeep, Nissan, Renault and Mercedes among others whose emissions data has come under scrutiny. When this is combined with allegations of what is effectively a cartel among some of the biggest names in the German automotive industry to try and prevent the development of clean emissions technology, it is unlikely Winterkorn and the other four will be the only ones charged.

And if the car industry is willing to put profit ahead of genuine emissions data in countries where emissions tests are highly regulated it raises questions about what their approach to compliance is in less regulated markets.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.