The rich brown BMW sedan sits sedately in the basement beneath a cloth cover, waiting for its absentee owner's return. Its customized license plate reads "Ten Ten," a lucky number to the Chinese.

It belongs to a peripatetic Asian named Jose Yao Campos. So does another BMW a few yards away in the garage of a posh seaside condominium at the foot of Diamond Head. So do two luxurious condos upstairs, one with a huge safe in its 10th-floor closet.

But downstairs, something odd has happened. "He was here just about 10 days ago," says one neighbor. "But his name is no longer on the building directory. I guess he's under cover."

Campos is one of ousted Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos' closest confidants. An ethnic Chinese, he was accused with Marcos and others this week in federal court of having "systematically skimmed and converted" government funds for Marcos' personal use.

Campos' quiet presence here suggests the difficulties facing investigators attempting to uncover the vast wealth accumulated by Marcos and his cronies over the last 20 years. Anti-Marcos activists were not even aware of Campos' property holdings here. Some neighbors knew him only as a mining magnate from Vancouver, British Columbia, a garden-variety Canadian millionaire.

Campos is far more than that. He is head of United Laboratories Inc., the largest distributor of pharmaceuticals to the Philippine Health Ministry and all of its public hospitals.

Because of his friendship with the former Philippine president, "he was able to import chemical ingredients almost duty-free," says Tomas (Buddy) Gomez, an anti-Marcos leader here. "He's the pharmaceutical kingpin. It's not a 100 percent monopoly. But he was able to corner the market. I assume he started getting the favored share in 1966. I think he was the very first presidential crony."

According to the San Jose Mercury-News, Campos is also president of Greenfield Investment Corp., based in Vancouver, and head of UNAM Investment Corp., a Netherlands Antilles firm that bought $9 million worth of buildings in downtown Seattle in 1983. He has been listed as a resident of Manila, Hong Kong and Vancouver.

"He has many homes in many places," says one acquaintance. "This man is a world traveler."

The slender, dark-haired Campos also figured prominently in the $1.5 billion civil suit filed Thursday in Houston under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Lawyers for the new Manila government of Corazon Aquino charged that an intricate network of secret corporations representing Marcos' interests bought up millions of dollars worth of buildings and land in Texas.

Besides Marcos, the defendants include Campos, his wife, Beatrice Dee Campos, their son Jeffrey, and a brother-in-law, Simeon Dee.

In Honolulu, Campos has kept a lower profile. State and city records show he bought the spacious 10th-floor apartment overlooking the Pacific at 3003 Kalakaua Ave. for $340,000 in 1975. It is appraised at $601,948.

Three years ago, he bought a similar three-bedroom, two-bath condo on the first floor for $750,000. It is appraised at $548,829.

According to neighbors, who asked not to be named, he and his family visit the quarters every few months, using the BMWs (a 528e and a 320i) in the basement to tool around the island.

"They always come with two Asian maids, attractive girls in pink-colored uniforms," said one neighbor. "One of them cleans the cars almost every day with a bucket of water. We don't allow hoses in the basement. She does a beautiful job."

Campos himself is unfailingly friendly and polite, according to neighbors. He wears a baseball-style cap that he doffs as a greeting. People call him "Joe."

"He's very quiet, very unpretentious," says another neighbor. "He isn't anything like the Marcoses."

Fellow condo owners were reportedly concerned, however, when a heavy safe was hauled up to the 10th floor about five years ago. Some worried whether the floor could take the load.

In addition to the safe, "I understand he's got a vault in the first-floor apartment," said a neighbor. "He's told some people that he's the guardian for the Marcos children."

The building manager, Robert Culver, told a reporter that Campos said he bought the two apartments for his own married children. But when Campos isn't there, sources said, his proxy at meetings of the apartment owners' association is voted by Bill Chu, an assistant manager at the Kahala Hilton on the other side of Diamond Head.

Asked where Campos might be reached for comment, Chu responded, "Mr. Campos was a hotel guest for many years. We're not allowed to give the whereabouts of our hotel guests."