LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron was making a third unwanted shake up of his government Friday, after prosecutors charged Cabinet minister Chris Huhne over an alleged attempt to pin a speeding penalty on his ex-wife.
Cameron, who took office in 2010 with a vow to keep his top ministers in their posts for the long term, was finalizing a replacement for Huhne's position in charge of Britain's energy and climate change ministry.
It follows earlier unplanned reshuffles of Cameron's Cabinet, after Liberal Democrat David Laws stepped down in 2010 over an allowances row and following the dramatic departure of Defense Secretary Liam Fox, who resigned last year following a furor over a close friend who had posed as an aide.
Huhne, who will continue to serve in Parliament with the Liberal Democrat party — the junior member in Britain's coalition government — faces a criminal charge of perverting the course of justice, Keir Starmer, the chief prosecutor for England and Wales said.
Prosecutors said the offense carried a maximum sentence of life in jail, though those convicted typically face much more lenient punishments.
The charge follows an eight-month police investigation into an allegation that Huhne persuaded his now ex-wife, economist Vicky Pryce, to accept a speeding penalty on his behalf in 2003, to avoid a driving ban.
Starmer said that Huhne and Pryce, who were married for 26 years and had three children and two stepchildren together before they split in 2010, would both face the same charge and appear in court on Feb. 16.
"We have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Mr. Huhne and Ms. Pryce for perverting the course of justice," Starmer said.
Huhne has consistently denied any wrongdoing over the case, which relates to a speeding offense committed as a car used by the couple traveled from Stansted Airport, near London, to Huhne's home in Clapham, south London in 2003.
"I am innocent of these charges and I intend to fight this in the courts and I am confident a jury will agree," Huhne told reporters after he was informed he had been charged.
In a letter sent to Cameron tendering his resignation, Huhne said he would "mount a robust defense against the charges" and added that he had been honored to lead Britain's work to tackle climate change.
Cameron, in his written reply, told Huhne he had "made the right decision under the circumstances" to step down.
Starmer said Huhne was accused of having "falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms. Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question" in order to escape a speeding penalty.
Cameron's office did not immediately say who would replace Huhne, though he is expected to be succeeded by another member of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrat party.
In a letter to Huhne, Clegg said he hoped his colleague — previously a rival for their party's leadership — would eventually return to a key role in government "as soon as possible."