DOJ Using WWII-Era Act to Extend Statutes of Limitations

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department has invoked the 1948 Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act (the “WSLA”) in an effort to aggressively extend and suspend statutes of limitations in alleged financial crimes.

Pursuant to the WSLA, “[w]hen the United States is at war…. the running of any statute of limitations applicable to any offense involving fraud … against the United States … shall be suspended until 5 years after the termination of hostilities. 18 U.S.C. § 3287(c).

The Justice Department has invoked the WSLA “12 times between 2008 and 2012,” and in matters wholly unrelated to wartime activities or contracting. WSJ. The government has justified these efforts to make expansive use of the WSLA on the ground that “prosecutors diverted resources from white-collar cases to focus on national security after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.” WSJ.

Prosecutors have had some success with this argument—Judge Sim Lake of the Southern District of Texas permitted a prosecution against BNP Paribas SA (that would have otherwise been time-barred) to proceed under the WSLA. Judge Lake highlighted the breadth of the WSLA—that it “expressly applies to ‘any statute of limitations applicable to any offense.'” United States v. BNP Paribas SA, 2012 WL 3234233 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 6, 2012) [via WSJ].

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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