Energy Secretary Chris Huhne will be charged over allegations that his wife took the blame for a speeding offence that he had committed, prosecutors said on Friday, a decision that could derail his career.
We have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr Huhne and (his former wife) Ms Pryce for perverting the course of justice, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said in a televised statement.
The decision will put Huhne, a member of the Liberal Democrats, junior partner in the Conservative-led coalition, under intense pressure to step down from government while he fights the prosecution.
There was no immediate response from Prime Minister David Cameron's office.
Huhne has denied any wrongdoing over allegations that he asked Vicky Pryce to take responsibility for a speeding offence in 2003 that would otherwise have cost him his driving licence.
Pryce, a former government economist, has remained silent over the alleged offence, which took place in Essex, east of London. The couple split in 2010.
The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003, Mr Huhne, having allegedly committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver, Starmer said.
Huhne and Pryce will now appear in court in central London on February 16.
Huhne is a wealthy former journalist who was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005. Elected to the British parliament in 2005, he stood for his party leadership the following year but lost to Nick Clegg, now deputy prime minister.
At last December's United Nations climate change talks in Durban, Huhne was credited with helping hammer out an international agreement on the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions.
Two ministers have already quit the government because of scandals since the Conservative-led coalition took power in May 2010.
Last month Clegg told the BBC that criminal charges against Huhne would be a very serious issue, while noting that the energy minister had denied any wrongdoing to him personally.
If Huhne is forced to resign, Lib Dem Employment Minister Ed Davey would be a likely choice to replace him, party insiders say. The Lib Dems are assured five senior cabinet positions to maintain the coalition balance.
(Reporting by Tim Castle and Michael Holden)