SÃO PAULO—Brazilian federal police on Thursday arrested a former high-ranking member of the administration of suspended President Dilma Rousseff on suspicion of taking bribes in an offshoot of the massive corruption scandal linked to the national oil company. He hasn’t been formally charged.
Paulo Bernardo, who served as Ms. Rousseff’s communications minister from 2011 to 2015, was taken into custody at his apartment in the capital, Brasília, in an investigation that started with information gleaned during a previous phase of the sprawling graft probe known as Operation Car Wash, centered on Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.
Prosecutors said Mr. Bernardo received as much as 7 million reais ($2.1 million) from the alleged scheme.
In a written statement, Mr. Bernardo’s lawyer, Rodrigo Mudrovitsch, decried Thursday’s action by authorities as heavy-handed and unnecessary.
“The arrest is not justified,” Mr. Mudrovitsch said. “My client is no longer a member of the cabinet and he always put himself at the disposal of authorities to provide any information.”
Mr. Bernardo also served as a cabinet member of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He was planning minister from 2005 to 2010 during Mr. da Silva’s administration.
According to prosecutors, a ring inside the planning ministry channeled about 100 million reais from a contract with a tech provider to certain ministry officials. Prosecutors said Mr. Bernardo continued to receive money from the arrangement even after he left the ministry.
Prosecutors said information provided by an informant during a previous Car Wash phase led to the opening of the operation that resulted in Mr. Bernardo’s arrest.
The informant “showed that the scheme used to divert cash from Petrobras contracts was replicated in others areas of the government,” said prosecutor Andrey de Mendonca, who said several people in the ministry benefited from it.
Mr. Mudrovitsch declined to comment further about the prosecutors’ allegations, saying he hadn’t yet received official documents detailing the charges against his client.
Federal Police also raided Mr. Bernardo’s home in the southern city of Curitiba, which he shares with his wife, Sen. Gleisi Hoffmann. Both are members of Ms. Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party. Ms. Hoffman wasn’t arrested.
Brazil’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court earlier this year to indict the high-profile couple for alleged corruption and money laundering in connection with the Petrobras scandal, which has toppled many of Brazil’s business and political elites. A ruling is pending on that request.
Lawyers for Ms. Hoffmann couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. She has denied wrongdoing in the past.
As part of the early morning operation, the Federal Police also raided Workers’ Party headquarters in São Paulo.
In a note, a Workers’ Party said the operation was unnecessary because the party is cooperating with investigators, adding it is always open to provide more clarification for authorities.
The Federal Police said through a statement Thursday’s operation includes 11 arrest warrants, 40 raids and 14 detentions for questioning, in the states of São Paulo, Parana, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco and in the Federal District.
Thursday’s developments are a setback for Ms. Rousseff, who was suspended from office in May and is in the midst of an impeachment trial in the Senate. Ms. Rousseff is accused of violating budget laws, which she denies.
“The authorities’ operation reached people too close to Dilma and this reduces even more her chance to survive the impeachment process because it’s likely to make senators more averse” to the president’s defense, said Rafael Cortez, a political analyst at local consultant group Tendencias.
Ms. Hoffman is a longtime ally of Ms. Rousseff and among her main defenders in the Senate.